The Maine State Legislative Council rejected a bill proposed by Rep. Barbara A. Bagshaw (R-Windham) of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee to lift the enrollment cap for virtual charter schools in the state.
Rep. Bagshaw’s bill was one of 225 that the Council rejected ahead of next session — just 58 of the bills proposed by lawmakers received the Council’s approval.
The Legislative Council is the State Legislature’s administrative body, comprised of ten elected members of legislative leadership, including the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, the Republican and Democratic Floor Leaders for both the Senate and House of Representatives and their Assistant Floor Leaders.
Among the numerous responsibilities delegated to the Council are screening and approving requests to introduce legislation after cloture in any legislative session, as well as for the second regular session and any special sessions.
Bagshaw, however, does not plan to accept the Council’s decision to reject her bill without a fight.
“I have appealed the decision on behalf of parental choice,” Bagshaw told the Maine Wire. “Families need options to ensure the best education for their children.”
“With more schools going virtual and different learning styles I want families to have choices,” she said.
“If people can’t afford private school or to homeschool, charter schools might be the best option,” Bagshaw said. “The Legislature and the public should be able to have the discussion my bill will generate.”
Maine’s two virtual charter schools — Maine’s Virtual Academy and Maine Connections Academy — are currently capped at a combined enrollment of 1,000 students.
This restriction was implemented by the State Legislature in 2019 at the same time that they voted to indefinitely institute a measure allowing no more than 10 charter schools to operate in Maine at a given time.
Out of all Maine’s charter schools, Maine’s Virtual Academy and Maine Connections Academy have the two largest wait lists for the 2022-23 school year, comprised of 57 and 93 students respectively.
During the first legislative session Bagshaw sponsored five bills — four of these were directly related to education — and of these four, two were specifically aimed at expanding opportunities for educational freedom.
One of the bills — LD 1741 — aimed to address a number of education-related issues, including the restrictions currently in place for charter schools.
In addition to lifting the enrollment cap on virtual charter schools, LD 1741 sought to remove limitations on the total number of charter schools and expand the list of eligible authorizers to include the University of Southern Maine and certain non-profit organizations.
This bill was ultimately defeated by a party-line roll call vote in the House and a nearly-partisan roll call vote in the Senate, where one Democrat lawmaker — Sen. Mike Tipping (D-Penobscot) — joined the Republicans in support of the measure.
This was the only working title submitted by Bagshaw for consideration going into the legislature’s second session in January.
Of the ten lawmakers on the Legislative Council, three voted in support of allowing Bagshaw’s bill to move forward, while six voted in opposition. One member — Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) — was absent.
The three legislators who approved of Bagshaw’s bill were Rep. Amy Arata (R-New Gloucester), Sen. Lisa Keim (R-Oxford), and Sen. Trey Stewart (R-Aroostook).
The six who voted in opposition to Bagshaw’s proposal included Sen. Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland), Rep. Maureen Terry (D-Gorham), Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc), Rep. Kristen Cloutier (D-Lewiston), and Sen. Mattie Daughtry (D-Cumberland).
Bagshaw’s appeal of the Council’s decision will be decided on Thursday when the council will determine whether to allow her proposed bill to come before the Legislature for consideration early next year.