For many years now, Maine has had an arbitrary cap on the number of charter schools in the state, limiting them to 10. There is no educational basis for this cap, or any reason 10 is better than, say, 12 or eight as a cap number.

Obi Meyer taps a maple tree while working with classmates March 3, 2020, in the sugar bush at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences on the Good Will-Hinckley campus in Fairfield. The public charter high school built its own maple sugar shack for a course taken by ninth-graders. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel, File Buy this Photo

There is already a rigorous process that every proposed school must follow before being granted a charter, and external forces create great pressure on these schools to survive after they open.

Unlike other public schools in Maine, for example, public charter schools have no means of raising capital for buildings and equipment other than donations from supporters. Not being connected to a city or town, they cannot bond or take advantage of other funding sources that are available to local governments.

Since this is the case, public charter schools must provide an outstanding educational experience, both to keep their students from opting to return to a traditional public school and to maintain and justify the financial backing of philanthropic supporters.

If charter schools are not popular with parents and students, they will simply cease to exist for lack of enrollment. When families lose faith in their local public school, and do not have the personal financial resources to send their kids to a private school, they have no option but to continue to send their child to the local school each day.

This is why the current cap on charter schools is arbitrary and limits the ability of poorer parents with school-age children to find a better fit for their child.

If charter schools are providing the kind of educational experience that specifically suits certain children, there will be demand for more charter schools, and they should be allowed to continue providing that experience. If charter schools are not filling a need, an arbitrary cap is unnecessary, since there will be no more charter schools than the demand – or lack of it – will allow.

There is currently a significant shortage of workers in the health care industry here in Maine. To alleviate this, a large hospital could start a charter school that focuses on giving its students the proper training to be certified nursing assistants, phlebotomists, MRI technicians, even the foundation for careers as registered nurses and medical doctors. This could help reduce the labor shortage and help many young Mainers begin rewarding and lucrative careers in health care.

Currently, this important and valuable idea could not move forward past the discussion stage because the cap on charter schools prevents it.

In another example, what if a group of education-minded people set out to create a new school based on science and technology in, say, eastern Washington County? Presently this cannot happen, not because the young people in Washington County do not deserve to have this opportunity, but simply because the cap on the number of schools has been reached.

The state’s public charter schools not only undergo a rigorous selection process but also are subject to significant monitoring at set intervals with a strenuous framework that allows the public to see how the charter schools are doing. The staff of the state’s Charter School Commission reviews school performance multiple times throughout the year to ensure that public charters are delivering on the promises in their contracts, holding the heads of schools and governing board chairs accountable.

There are already ample checks against the establishment of poor-quality charter schools, and a process through which a charter can be taken away if the school is failing. These make the arbitrary cap on the number of these schools in Maine an unnecessary obstacle. We should lift the cap and let students take advantage of the unique educational opportunities offered by each of these schools.


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