By Victor Skinner
AUGUSTA – Charter schools are under attack in Maine.
Less than two years after lawmakers allowed charter schools into the Pine Tree State, hostile legislators are proposing new laws that would change how they are funded, or require local voters’ approval to establish new schools, the Portland Press Herald reports.
“It amounts to changing the rules midway through the game,” Maine Association for Charter Schools Executive Director Roger Brainerd said, according the news site. “It’s unfair and poor public policy.”
Legislative committee members considered several different bills Monday that would:
– Bar charter schools from receiving local tax dollars and cap funding for virtual school students to 20 percent of a district’s per-student allotment.
– Cut charter school funding in half, and exempt public schools from forwarding funding for students who were previously home-schooled or attended private schools.
– End the current funding system, which requires local schools to pass along funding for students who attend charter schools in the district. The same proposal would limit enrollment in virtual charter schools to students with serious educational disruptions, such as a medical emergency.
-Require local voters to approve any charter school authorized by the Maine Charter School Commission.
It seems clear the Maine Education Association is behind the new wave of legislation aimed at charter school funding. Current law requires schools to pass along education dollars – both the portions distributed by the state and raised locally through taxes – to charter schools for each student who attends, the Press Herald reports.
As usual, the teachers union is focused on money, rather than what’s in the best interests of students and their families.
“It is not like schools can simply eliminate entire grade levels because they’re losing funding to a charter. It doesn’t work that way. With charter school funds siphoned out of public schools the majority of Maine students will suffer. The funding source needs to change,” union president Lois Kilby-Chesley said in a statement, according to the news site.
What Kilby-Chesley doesn’t seem to get is that students and their parents are transferring from public schools to charter schools because that’s where they want to be. Students across the state are taking advantage of the first opportunity they’ve had to switch to a school that better fits their needs.
That should be the bottom line.
The union wants to limit access to charter schools to limit competition with traditional public schools and preserve union teacher jobs that could go away if students continue to transfer to charters.
But that competition is what will ultimately drive all Maine schools to strive for excellence to attract students.
If the union was truly interested in what’s best for all students, MEA officials would promote ways to improve teaching and learning in public schools to keep students there, instead of concentrating on undermining other educational options .
Thankfully, Maine Gov. Paul LePage seems to see things the same way.
“We could solve the problem if we put kids first,” LePage said. “It’s about putting kids first.”