LEWISTON — Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to allow more publicly funded charter schools in Maine is getting mixed reviews.

LePage wants to change the state law that caps charter schools at no more than 10 statewide. How many more, and whether they get approved, would be up to the Maine Charter School Commission, which has approved nine schools since 2011.

In LePage’s budget message, the governor said the addition of charter schools to Maine’s public school landscape, which he promoted, has “unlocked new educational opportunities tailored to the needs of Maine students.”

It’s time to remove the cap, he said, crediting the Maine Charter School Commission with being judicious in approving schools.

“This gives them the authority to continue to exercise discretion in how many new schools can be approved to provide opportunities to Maine students,” the governor’s budget message reads.

Jim Hodgkin, superintendent of Sabattus-Wales-Litchfield schools, said Wednesday that more charter schools are not the answer.


“I remain a staunch opponent to charter schools,” he said. “I don’t believe in charter schools. They make no sense in these economic times. No matter how you slice it, they are private schools” paid for by taxpayers.

Hodgkin said he agrees with LePage that schools need to do better, “but we need to get support for making those changes.” The administration and others should “stop trying to discredit public schools. Maine’s educational system is tremendously successful.”

Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley said the state is spending $20 million a year on charter schools, money that’s taken from public schools.

“That money comes off the top of state funding for public schools. That’s a huge amount,” she said. Nine charter schools “is a lot for a state our size.” 

Raising the cap will only take more money away from public schools, she said.

Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said additional charter schools would further reduce enrollment in Maine public schools, enrollment that statewide has been falling.


Additional charter schools could be positive for the state, Webster said, if they’re designed to meet specific needs not being addressed. They would have a negative impact “if they result in further income and/or race segregation. I wish that Maine identified specific needs, then solicited for that specific purpose rather than just considering all applications received, regardless of focus.”
Bob Kautz, executive director of the Maine Charter School Commission, said commissioners who serve on the board asked for the cap to be repealed.

“We’ve got a waiting list every year of people who would like to attend the schools,” Kautz said. “We find in our survey of parents they like the idea of choosing another method of public education. It adds to the menu.”

Commission members don’t see charter schools as competition for public schools, he said. They’re viewed as an option.

When it comes to performance and test scores, Maine charter schools “do not necessarily do better than district schools,” Kautz said. More time is needed to better analyze test data, he said. Only two of the nine have existed for five years.

Test scores aren’t the only indicator to consider, he said. Success is also measured by parent satisfaction, staff satisfaction and attendance.

So far, “we’re satisfied,” Kautz said. “Given the conditions they have, they’re doing very well.”

Julie Colello, principal of Acadia Academy in Lewiston, which opened in September, said she favors lifting the cap.


“I’m a believer of school choice,” she said. “Parents should have the right to pick where to send their child.” 

Charter schools need more money, she said, especially to provide transportation. “We’re publicly funded but we’re not allowed to take advantage of other funding that public schools are.”

Most charter schools specialize in something. Acadia provides hands-on and social-emotional learning, Colello said. Each Friday, students work on self-selected,  independent learning projects.

Acadia has eight classrooms for prekindergarten through grade two pupils. Next year, a third grade will be added.

Since the school opened this past fall, “it’s going amazing,” Colello said. She said she’s receiving emails from parents weekly asking about spring registration.

Maine’s 9 taxpayer-supported charter schools, and their 2015-16 Maine Educational Assessment reading test results.

  • Maine Virtual Academy, statewide (online school), 55.4 percent of students scored at or above the state standard.

Statewide reading test results: 50.6 percent of Maine students scored at or above the state standard.


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