AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate voted 21-13 Tuesday in support of a bill to allow public charter schools in Maine, one of 10 states that do not currently allow them.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, said charter schools would enable the state to have “schools of focus” that could help students who are particularly interested in subjects such as science and math, agriculture or performing arts.

“Traditional public schools are great for most Maine children,” he said. “This bill is about the thousands of Maine children that aren’t quite getting what they need.”

The bill, LD 1553, has been amended by the Legislature’s Education Committee.

The committee’s Senate chairman, Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, said the bill would require anyone who wants to open a charter school to show need and support. It also would:

Limit the number of children who can leave traditional public schools to attend charter schools for the first three years.

Allow no more than 10 charter schools in the first 10 years.

Require rules governing the schools to be considered by the Legislature.

Langley, a former teacher, said charter schools wouldn’t be “a silver bullet,” but would help some students who don’t do well in traditional schools.

“I’ve seen countless numbers of students enter my classroom with desperation in their eyes,” he said.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, spoke against the bill Tuesday, saying charter schools would duplicate the administration that exists in traditional public schools and take tax money away from those schools. State funding would follow students who transferred to charter schools.

“It disturbs me because there are so many unanswered questions,” Alfond said.

While most Republicans in the Senate voted to support the bill and most Democrats opposed it, there were some crossover votes.

Republican Sens. Nichi Farnham of Bangor and Roger Sherman of Houlton voted against it, while Democratic Sens. Joe Brannigan of Portland and Nancy Sullivan of Biddeford supported it.

Sullivan is a teacher.

“I believe it is one more answer to individual learning for children and what we need,” she said.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]