AUGUSTA – The Maine House voted 89-55 on Wednesday night, after hours of debate, to allow the establishment of public charter schools. Maine is now among just 10 states that do not permit charter schools.

Public charter schools are voluntary, are required to follow state and federal academic requirements and cannot teach religious practices or discriminate against students or teachers.

Supporters say they allow for more creative approaches that can benefit students who struggle in traditional schools. Opponents say they are concerned that the quality of traditional public schools could decline as per-pupil tax money follows students who attend charter schools.

“They want to call themselves public charter schools. Where’s the public in these charter schools?” asked Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay. “The public is in public money that these charter schools, which are really more like a set of private schools and want to take the public’s money so that they can run these experimental schools.”

Rep. Stephen Lovejoy, D-Portland, said he agrees with the concept of charter schools, but he argued that it is unfair for school districts to potentially lose students, and the accompanying funding, without having a say.

“They are stuck with all the costs of running their district, but they have to send that money to another community without a single vote,” he said.

For other legislators, the benefits clearly outweighed the concerns.

“Charter schools equal choice; choice is good,” said Rep. Peter Johnson, R-Greenville.

The proposal would set a limit of 10 new charter schools over a 10-year period, though one could be a “virtual” school and multiple schools could be developed with the same charter.

The final draft for charter school regulations would come before the Legislature’s Education Committee before any schools could be approved.

Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford, a recently retired teacher, said he supports the bill because he still thinks about some of the students he just couldn’t reach.

“I don’t look at charter schools as a magic potion, but I look at it as an alternative,” he said. “It is an experiment, we really don’t know how it’s going to work. Some will succeed, some will fail, but I think our students deserve that chance.”

The House approved a technical amendment to the measure, but lawmakers also rebuffed a series of proposed amendments.

The Senate has also passed the proposal, L.D. 1553, but it faces further votes.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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