One of the great advantages of Portland’s public schools is choice. Nowhere else in Maine, for instance, can a family choose among three high schools to find the best fit for their student.

The downside of this variety, however, is that there can be big differences in the quality of the educational programs that are offered. Independent fundraising by parent groups can provide enrichment opportunities to some students that are not available to others.

For a long time Portland has tolerated such an inequity within one of its own buildings, the Hall School, which houses the Many Rivers school-within-a-school program.

Superintendent Jim Morse has put an end to the discrepancy this week by requiring that funds raised by Many Rivers should benefit all Hall students. It was the right move, and should be one of many that equalizes the opportunity for Portland’s families.

Many Rivers is an elementary school that teaches students in grades 1 to 5, using multi-grade groupings and “looping” where one teacher stays with a group of students for more than one year. What makes it unique is that it also has a non-profit arm that can raise money through grants to enhance its offerings. It is housed in Hall School, which runs a traditional K-5 program, and does not have access to the same private funds.

As a result, children in the two programs can receive access to very different opportunities, even though they walk through the same schoolhouse door every morning.

The differences also exist between buildings, where schools in middle-class neighborhoods have more access to booster fundrasing.

The discrepancies should stop, and parent teacher organizations should be citywide, with their income pooled. That would be the best way for all students to get the same opportunities from their public schools.


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