The Education Committee of the Maine Legislature will hold a Public Hearing on Tuesday, May 3rd, at 1 pm on LR 136, “An Act to Permit Charter Schools in Maine.” Sponsored by Senator Carol Weston (R, Waldo), this proposal would expand public school options for Maine families of all income levels. Chartered public schools are free to parents, open to all students without admissions tests, and non-religious.

The Maine State Board of Education recommended a pilot program of public charter schools to the Education Committee in January 2004. The proposed bill reflects those recommendations. The pilot program would allow no more than 20 new charter schools in 10 years. Each charter school would operate on a renewable 5 year contract with a public chartering authority.

If the bill is passed by the Legislature, Maine will be eligible for the Federal Charter School Grant Program, which awards major grants to chartered schools for planning and start-up costs (as much as $100,000 per year for 3 years with no state match required).

Communities, parents and educators could start new public school options. Each chartered school’s contract would spell out the nature and theme of the proposed school, instructional methods, assessment methods, location, grade levels, etc. The current average per pupil allocation for operating funds would follow each child to the public district school or public charter school chosen for that child. This means that no additional funds would be required from the state or from a town. Public charter schools are different from vouchers, because a chartered public school cannot choose its students, cannot have a religious affiliation, and are public, not private organizations.

There are about 3,300 chartered public schools operating in the 40 states that now allow them, enrolling over 900,000 students. Many are second chance schools for students who have dropped out of high school. Some chartered schools use experiential and hands-on methods. Others focus on the arts, vocational training, math and science, special needs, foreign language immersion or other themes. Rural charter schools in several states help small communities preserve their community schools.

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