Maine Explores Charter Schools

Maine is now considering charter schools. According to Maine Charter Schools, a bill(LD 1438) has been proposed to allow charter schools to form here in Maine.

Some highlights on the bill:

– LD 1438 will cash in on federal funds available to new charters. For a state struggling to meet budget requirements this is a boon. Without these funds charters would not be possible in Maine.

– During the first ten years after the bill passes twenty charters can be started. The charterization of current alternative schools and specialized schools such as magnet schools will not count toward the limit. There are 72 school administrative districts in Maine, not to mention numerous single town districts. Populace regions like Southern Maine and Bangor already have a number of alternative schools that may be converted to charters, so this limit should not restrict their implementation too greatly. The number of charters should be kept to a manageable number, at least until we can get the hang of how to run them.

– Local and regional school boards, colleges and universities that award 4 year degrees will be able to authorize applications for charter schools. The authorizing establishments will have oversight of the charters they allow. They will have measures to “enhance the quality” of the charters and make judgments based on the performance of the schools. What on earth does “enhance the quality” mean? Well it is made up of data including student academic performance, student academic growth, attendance, continued enrollment, college readiness for charter high schools, financial performance/responsibility, and parent involvement. These are all measures I support. They also necessitate a push toward better data collection for parents and authorizing boards. Exactly how certain things are measured, (will student performance be based solely on grades?) , have not been made clear.

– The charter will allow no more than 10% of the students from the district it is in to attend the school. If the school cannot accommodate all students who wish to attend students will be chosen to attend at random. This prevents the cherry picking of students to boost numbers we all fear.

– Maine charter teachers may bargain collectively or “form a professional group”. They can unionize in layman’s terms.

– Virtual charters are allowed as well. This is perhaps one of the most interesting developments in my mind. With a population density of about 43 people per square mile, which is skewed a bit by the dense York, Cumberland, and Androscogin counties, virtual charters would be a huge advantage to children living in the boonies. I hope the bill gets passed just so we can see some virtual charters sprout up.

The bill seems pretty solid to me. It is sponsored by Dennis Damon, who you may remember as being the sponsor of LD 1020 to legalize same-sex marriage. I’m interested to see how it will be presented to the public. This could be a big chance for Maine to show the rest of the nation how to make charters work. Here is a link to the pdf of the bill and a summary composed by Maine Charter Schools. Read them, then let’s hear your thoughts.