Maine students need more charter schools

Andrew Charleson, left, and Irene Song read assignments on Google Chromebooks during an advanced 6th-grade reading class at Ridgeview Middle School in Gaithersburg, Md., on Nov. 6. Apple products are being replaced as the inexpensive, cloud-based Chromebook makes inroads in to K-12 schools. In Montgomery County, Md. roughly 40,000 Chromebooks are being deployed to students. --T.J. Kirkpatrick for Education Week

During his first term in the legislature, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Androscoggin, spearheaded legislation that established the first charter schools in Maine, providing alternative choices for students looking for alternative and innovative approaches to education.

When he and conservatives in Augusta pushed to implement the law enabling charter schools in Maine in 2011, they were operating under a “go-slow, pilot program,” according to Mason. 

To ensure the new system had proper oversight and was adequately serving student needs, the original law applies a cap that restricts the state from approving more than 10 charter schools. The cap was included as a “transition period” provision intended to reduce the risk of creating an unmanageable system. It prevents the creation of more than 10 charter schools by 2021, or within 10 years of the law’s passage. 

In just six short years since the program’s enactment, the state has adopted nine charter schools, two of which are virtual charter schools capable of serving students anywhere in the state. Today, the program continues to flourish. Charter schools are serving roughly 2000 students across the state and eight of the nine approved schools already have waitlists filled with students eager to get in. 

After seeing early successes in the program, it’s time for Maine to approve more schools. 

Mason has introduced legislation this session that would remove the cap on the number of charter schools allowed to operate in Maine. As a result, Maine could invest in additional charter schools and students across the state could benefit from enhanced school choice and educational opportunity. LD 1158, Mason’s new bill, would remove the cap established by his 2011 legislation, better serving the needs of Maine students.

“I see no reason to continue to keep this arbitrary cap in place,” Mason said in a press release.

Maine needs more charter schools because most of the approved schools are clustered in central and southern areas of the state, providing limited choices for students in rural areas like Aroostook, Hancock and Washington counties. Additionally, there is a demand for these services the state is currently unable to meet due to the 2011 legislation, harming the education of students on waitlists and their future shot at prosperity.

With a tenth charter school already in the process of applying, Mason’s new bill would provide additional opportunitiy to underserved students in rural communities. Adding more virtual schools like the Maine Virtual Academy and Maine Connections Academy to our state’s education portfolio would best serve these students, as would the creation of charter schools in northern areas of Maine.

“Although they are still relatively new to our state, charter schools have already proven to be a worthwhile investment,” Mason said. 

“Nearly 2,000 students currently benefit from the charter school model of education, which provides innovative, alternative opportunities for students to learn and grow. It is clear that the demand for this style of education is there and the ‘transition period’ provision will soon limit opportunities for Maine students.”

Maine students should not be forced into attending struggling institutions, or traveling long distances, when there are viable alternatives that offer an equal or enhanced quality of education in comparison to the public school system. The waitlists for these services must be addressed by allowing more charter schools to operate in Maine. 

Take action today and contact the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee in support of LD 1158.


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