By Ashleigh Costello
AUGUSTA, Maine – Gov. Paul LePage is pushing to eliminate the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Maine, creating more educational options for students.
Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said Sunday that LePage’s charter school legislation is still being developed but confirmed that the governor is committed to abolishing the cap, reports the Bangor Daily News.
LePage has been a major proponent for education reform since taking office. In 2011 the governor introduced legislation that eventually allowed for the formation of public charters schools in Maine for the first time.
“This is about the kids,” LePage said at the time. “This is about giving students choices in their education that will help them succeed. Every student deserves an education that works for him or her and public charter schools, which are approved and working in 40 other states, are one more way we can reach those children.”
Teachers unions have been highly critical of charter schools mostly because they compete for the same taxpayer dollars as traditional public schools. Under Maine’s charter school law, state education dollars follow students from their previous traditional public schools to the charter school of their choice, according to the news site.
Rep. Bruce MacDonald, who is House chairman of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, said he has been critical of charter schools in the past, despite the educational opportunities they provide students.
“I am forced to pay my taxes by law and that money goes into our local treasury. By making a private decision to go to a charter school, a family can essentially pull that money out. Just by itself that to me is a problem. It’s pretty close to taxation without representation,” said MacDonald. “I’d rather see people putting their energy and dollars into looking at how we can adapt our needs in the 21st century and focusing on what can be done inside public schools.”
Sen. Brian Langley, the ranking Republican on the Legislature’s Education Committee, believes a little competition will incentivize traditional public schools to use their funding more effectively.
“From my point of view it’s really about everybody taking a look at whether we’re using our education dollars to their best use,” Langley said. “We have a good place to start from in really looking at streamlining the efficiencies in our state government.”
LePage’s new charter school proposal would be the latest of several major education policy changes enacted over the past two years. The governor has also implemented a new teacher and principal evaluation system, a new training program, and has overhauled the state’s school funding formula.