PORTLAND – The concept of charter schools — or for that matter, any alternate model of education — came from the frustration that parents have and do experience with failing educational systems.

Face it, we all want our kids to grow up and have the opportunity to succeed in the world they inherit. That is one piece of the American dream.

But when parents learn that America has dropped to 32nd globally in education results, and that Maine ranks 30th and 37th, respectively, in math and science within that declining nation, they know that the American dream they want for their kids is changing in ways less than desirable.

The current legislative proposal for charter schools is a modified version of the National Association of Charter Schools Authorizers model.

I believe the success or failure of the concept here in Maine will depend on how good a job the authorizing entities do in screening potential charters and their financial stability.

One can only hope that Maine’s efforts will be guided by failures and successes in other places. As a minimum, successful charters rely on space provided free by the community and on the money “following the child.”

Failed charters are often those started up by well-intentioned local supporters who believe that anybody can do it.

The role of the “authorizer” within the charter school framework is going to be critical in evaluating credentials and merits of charter applicants.

It will take an excellent (meaning apolitical) team to pick charter winners — appointments of friends and political sycophants just will not produce winners.

I personally think the proposed bill goes a bit too far for what Maine has for resources and needs. How many big Maine cities have schools that could be considered failing? How many small towns have resources to fund a second school in their town?

As a minimum, the efforts to consolidate schools should be undone first so that small towns can return to choosing where their children can go to school.

Give parents at least that much choice and you will put out some of the fires that motivate parents to seek alternatives. Simply revising the “town academy” concept would reduce the angst of many parents.

And various legislative proposals supporting school vouchers would satisfy those parents who pay taxes.

The simplest form of charter school would be one in which the townspeople vote to replace the public/government-run administration of an existing school with a private school-management administration.

That would be simple, could be quick, should be structured to control costs, and must be accountable to the parents and community.

We don’t need to re-create the wheel in order to move forward with the simplest option.

I support school choice — empowering parents with choices and information that would allow those parents to make informed decisions about where their kids go to school and what models could best benefit their child.

What could be more desirable than for parents to have half a dozen options at any one time from which to choose so the parent has a primary voice in choosing and meeting their objectives for their child?

As of now, the “establishment” says it knows best what is right for your child.

And its assertion of authority to control your child’s education is summed up in the 400 pages of “Maine School Law, Third Ed.” (Drummond Woodsum).

Compare that to these simple 57 words in the Maine Constitution: “A general diffusion of the advantages of education being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people; to promote this important object, the Legislature are authorized, and it shall be their duty to require, the several towns to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the support and maintenance of public schools.”

With the addition of just a few extra hundreds of thousands of words, slid in through experiment after experiment with our children’s education, our education establishment has accomplished — well, what exactly?

I’d prefer to take the $2.8 billion in the biennial education budget, give it back to the parents and empower them to choose.

One can only hope that our government will get it right some time in the next 100,000 words — starting with this charter bill.

– Special to the Press Herald