AUGUSTA – Republicans and Democrats on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee sparred Friday over a host of bills GOP lawmakers believe will undermine public charter schools and online learning and restrict school choice.
“The attacks on education reform that have come from the Democrats and the education establishment really are unrelenting,” said Rep. Peter Johnson (R-Greenville), the top House Republican on the Education Committee.
“All of these bills are little bites that combine to make the promise of charter schools dimmer for thousands of Maine students at a time when nobody should have a monopoly on our children’s education,” Johnson said.
“I’m still waiting for Democrats to say which education reforms they would support,” he said.
“They’ve shot down every idea we’ve given them.”
House Republicans said the Democratic attacks on charter schools were numerous and varied.
Two of the bills heard today concern virtual schools – online curricula programs authorized by Governor Paul LePage’s charter school legislation: Rep. W. Bruce MacDonald’s (D-Boothbay) L.D. 481 would impose heavy new regulations on virtual schools before any have even opened and the current law has had a chance to operate; Rep. Matthea E.L. Daughtry’s (D-Brunswick) L.D. 671, An Act to Protect Charter Schools by Requiring Them To Be Operated as Nonprofit Organizations, effectively eliminates the opportunity for virtual charter schools to operate in Maine, as virtual schools generally operate as private corporations.
Senate President Justin L. Alfond’s (D-Cumberland) L.D. 1128 would, according to Republicans, put proposed charter schools at the mercy of informal votes held at kangaroo-court style public hearings that can easily be flooded by the Democrats’ army of activist organizations, including Alfond’s own League of Young Voters.
Democrats rejected one Republican proposal to give equal treatment to public charter schools and traditional schools in the waiver application process, despite a proposed amendment that made it much harder for charter schools to obtain waivers.
Sen. Garrett Mason (R-Androscoggin) presented a bill, L.D. 729, which would grant charter schools the same waiver application process that traditional schools now have, along with an amendment that would actually make it harder for charters to get certain waivers than it is for traditional schools. The measure received heavy backlash from the Maine Education Association, the Maine School Management Association, and the liberal American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
“I can understand there being some questions or concerns about a new education initiative such as charter schools, but I’ve been really taken aback by the quantity of the anti-charter school bills,” said Rep. Matthew Pouliot (R-Augusta). “Some of the bills raise some good points but, overall, I think we should be working to make charter schools more accessible to Maine parents and their children, not less.”
Amanda Clark, education policy analyst at the Maine Heritage Policy Center, expressed concern over the barrage of education bills.
“The Democrats are peppering Maine people with a series of bills intently designed to squash charter schools, with great hopes that something will stick,” said Clark. “Maine’s charter schools and their students will prevail; they have already proven themselves, given the strides they’ve made through the approval process and through the rapid enrollment of students.”
“Maine parents want to be able to enroll their children in a school which best meets their students’ needs and interests,” she said.
“For some, charter schools are the solution.”
By S.E. Robinson
MAINE WIRE Reporter