Charter schools deserve time to prove worth

We expected a sharp left turn when Democrats regained control of the Maine Legislature last year.

But the surge in largely Democratic legislation designed to cripple the state's nascent charter schools is unseemly and inappropriate.

One of Gov. Paul LePage's priorities was passing a charter school law to give students here alternatives to traditional public schools.

Charter schools have an uneven record of educational improvement in other states, but advocates here are passionate and deserve a chance.

Our public school systems are clearly not working for all children, and we need to experiment with alternative ways of reaching those students.

We realize the vast majority of students will still prefer to be educated in public schools with their friends and neighbors.

But there are other effective models for educating children, and we must be willing to try them.

Charter schools often appeal to students bullied or harassed in public schools, those with low rates of achievement and those who show unusual aptitude and do not feel challenged in traditional schools.

Good people have given thought to the problem, volunteered their time and expertise and sought to develop charter schools. The approval process is long, detailed and arduous.

The charter-school law, which Democrats and educational unions never liked, requires that per-student funding move with the student from a public school to the local school.

The Legislature wisely approved a go-slow approach, capping the number of charter schools at 10.

Gov. LePage has argued there should be no cap, but we believe in limiting the number until they prove their worth.

But Democrats in the Legislature and teacher unions now seem intent on pulling the plug on charter schools.

One measure, sponsored by Sen. President Justin Alfond, D-Cumberland, and supported by the Maine Education Association, is titled "An Act To Provide for Greater Public Input and Local Control in Chartering of Public Schools."

It might as well be called, "An Act to Kill All Future Charter Schools" because it sets up a series of hurdles culminating in a vote at a public meeting that could easily be dominated by local public school employees.

Another, sponsored by Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, would block charter schools from receiving any local tax revenue.

A third would require local voter approval for charter schools.

There are currently about 20 bills in the Legislature that could negatively affect the handful of charter schools that are open or about to open.

The Legislature should be skeptical of any bill designed to change the ground rules for charter schools approved just two years ago.

There are only two problems that merit serious consideration:

* First the Legislature should find a way to spread the cost of this experiment over all public schools rather than allowing the financial burden to fall on a small number of local districts.

This problem is best seen in Skowhegan's RSU 54, which could lose as much as $600,000 next year because it happens to be close to two new charter schools, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Fairfield and the Cornville Regional Charter School in Cornville.

The loss of state support to charter schools should be spread over all of the state's schools system.

* Second, we agree with several bills seeking a moratorium on the approval of virtual charter schools. These are online schools where students withdraw from a local school and learn by computer.

In light of the failure of a statewide virtual school in Massachusetts, Maine needs to re-evaluate whether that type of full-time school can succeed here.

Maine has more than 600 public school buildings. There are currently five charter schools open or authorized to open.

We fail to see how this constitutes a serious threat to public education in Maine.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Comments

RAYMOND FRECHETTE's picture

You are very correct in

You are very correct in observing that Charter schools fill a void in the education system. This is a void that needs to be filled for the good of our children. Why any school would tolerate bullying to the point a student wants to leave is a serious question and one that must be answered if students leave in any number. Low achievement must be questioned; unless the student is a special need student, why is the school not fulfilling its obligation to keep that student's interest up in their studies? If the student is special needs, they must be given the help they need. If the school cannot meet the needs of the fortunate over achiever or over qualified student, those needs must be met so that we do not waste this precious asset unless the student's parents can afford a private school. Maybe the teacher's union is upset with this, but so be it, the needs of our children must come first. Looked at in a positive light this competition for the public schools should be positive and help them improve. If money is a factor, a look at all non teaching positions would probably yield needed funds.

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