Charter school proponents, including this newspaper, always make the point that charter schools are public schools.
When they work best, they are places that can strike a spark with students who are not learning in a traditional environment.
As small-scale, stand-alone operations, they can innovate new strategies that might be adopted in other schools, and draw on expertise and outside resources that aren’t available to bigger government-run systems.
Charter school opponents always argue that these are not public schools and that they draw resources away from public education to benefit the few at the expense of the many. We have argued against that claim, but it’s getting more difficult.
That’s because the leading exponent of charter schools in Maine, Gov. LePage, is showing himself to be an enemy of public education.
In a pair of free-wheeling news conferences last week, the governor announced, without evidence, that Maine schools are failing because teachers are lying to their students.
It wasn’t only teachers the governor blamed, however. He also accused principals, superintendents and school boards of undermining student achievement. If he’d had a third news conference, maybe he would have attacked the janitors and the lunch ladies as well.
The governor’s harshest words were reserved for the volunteer Charter School Commission, which has been putting in long hours to review 1,000-page applications. LePage accused them of being intimidated. “I’m asking them for the good of the kids of the state of Maine, please go away. We don’t need you.”
The governor’s main complaint is that the commission is not approving new charters fast enough, but that’s not the commission’s fault. The law sets standards the applicants have to meet, and if they don’t, like four out of five recent applicants, they don’t get their charter. Experience from other charter-school states shows a wide range of quality in new charters, and Maine does not want to risk starting its programs with a string of failures.
If LePage were really interested in expanding charters in Maine, he would be for making sure all of the first Maine charter schools are top-quality successes. Instead, it looks like he’s really only interested in undermining public education, after all.