PORTLAND — Once again the Maine Association for Public Charter Schools has been defeated in its attempt to legalize the independently run schools in Maine.

A legislative committee did vote for a proposal to allow “innovative” schools in existing districts in order to strengthen its position to receive some of the $4 billion in federal funds that the Obama administration is supplying for educational reform.

Although Maine is one of 11 states that does not allow charter schools, favored by President Obama, the legislative committee is hoping that the proposal for “innovative” schools will strengthen its position to compete for federal money.

The charter schools movement, supported by the Center for Educational Reform, is literally sweeping the country with more than 5,000 charter schools in the United States.

Here in Maine, such schools are strongly supported by Judith Jones, chairperson for the Maine Association for Charter Schools. In a recent public forum appearance, Jones stated: “We basically support and promote public school options and school choice for all kinds of Maine families.”

Those behind the movement for charter schools in Maine have been successful in persuading thousands of parents that this is the way to go.

Maine’s dozen or so aspiring candidates for governor have also taken sides on the issue, regardless of their political affiliation.

Ron Bancroft, in a recent column (“Effective teachers are the solution to the crisis in education,” March 16), is apparently very impressed with what he calls two “remarkable articles” by Amanda Ripley and Elizabeth Greer (“What Makes a Great Teacher” and “Can Good Teaching be Learned?”). Both are charter-school advocates.
He also praises Teach for America, the federally sponsored program that recruits college graduates to teach for two years in low-income schools.

Bancroft tells us about Doug Lemov, leader of Uncommon Schools, a network of 16 charter schools in the Northeast.

He describes how Lemov observed these teachers and resolved to find specific teaching techniques that could transform the average teacher into a high-performing educator. Mr. Lemov will shortly release his findings in a book.

I was also impressed with the reported results; I frankly agree with Bancroft on the apparent success of the charter school movement.

However, what is not recognized, and what seems to be concealed from parents and public alike, is the fact that charter schools are designed to be profit-making institutions.

Thus, they are slowly but surely bleeding our public schools. That is making it easier for those who are pushing the charter schools agenda to compare them with public schools and consequently appear in a more favorable light.

James Morse, Portand’s new superintendent, has proposed a $89.3 million budget for 2010-11 that will call for eliminating 44 teachers as well as other educational personnel.

Funding for public schools is declining as the Maine Legislature continues to cut financial aid to the bone.
In the meantime, charter schools in other states are reported to be alive and well with business interests supplying private money.

How quickly we fail to remember the days of the “separate but equal” status of our black brothers and sisters.
They were indeed separate, but never equal, because of the inequitable amount of funding allocated to black schools.

Could this be happening to our public schools? Millions of dollars are being poured into the charter school movement at the national level by their supporters while many public schools are in dire economic straits.

Though our public schools do not have to compete with charter schools and are not closing down as in some other states, staff reductions are still happening throughout Maine communities. They do not need a further drain on their resources.

Another factor which is surreptitiously ignored by the charter school supporters is the consequences to the public school associations that have helped to remedy the historically low pay for teachers.

As a retired educator and former union president, I often look back and speculate about teacher salaries and what they would be without an association to push for educational reform. (My starting salary in 1954 was $2,000; beginning teachers, by state mandate, now make a minimum of $30,000 per year.)

I, for one, sincerely believe that Maine’s citizens should be extremely cautious before embracing the charter schools that are predominately designed to be a profit-making business.