Governor Paul LePage is calling on the Maine Charter School Commission to continue its work to ensure parents and students will have additional school choice in September. Nine charter school letters of intent and five applications have been submitted to the Commission since May 1 when proposals were requested for the 2012-13 school year. The Commission has already begun the review process of those applications and will continue to accept proposals until June 29.
Charter schools are public schools of choice students can decide to attend as an alternative to traditional public schools and have greater autonomy to be innovative with instructional methods, scheduling and staffing. Governor LePage signed L.D. 1553 into law on June 29, 2011, making Maine the 41st state to allow public charter schools.
In a move that seems driven by a fear of competition, the Maine School Management Association (MSMA) has taken steps to sway the decision-making process of the Maine Charter School Commission. Last week, MSMA sent a bulletin to its members which cast doubts on commission's charter approval process. In the bulletin, the MSMA claimed that the commission has "little time to review all the applications; hold the necessary public hearings; vote on the merits; and work to draft a comprehensive performance-based contract that describes performance expectations, defines operational responsibilities and accountability." MSMA is a federation of the statewide associations representing Maine's school boards and school superintendents.
"This is yet another attempt by these associations to prevent school choice in our state," said Governor LePage. "It is appalling to know that those who are supposed to be known as "education leaders' are trying to undermine the charter approval process. These are the so-called leaders that are satisfied with the status quo, are not interested in giving students more choices, and their recent action is simply irresponsible and unacceptable."
Formed under Maine's charter school law, which MSMA opposed in testimony before the legislature, the seven-member Charter School Commission is one of two entities permitted to authorize public charter schools in Maine. Upon its formation last winter, the commission worked with the Maine Department of Education to lay out a timeline that would result in the opportunity for a potential charter operator to open a charter school this fall.
"If any members of the Commission are not up to meeting the state's expectations, I urge their resignation," Governor LePage said Monday. "Charter schools are not a new concept. Nor is approval of charter schools a novel process. Maine is the 41st state in the nation to allow charter schools. The fact is the commission has had nearly a year to implement a review plan. There is no excuse to cause delay on this important work."
"The commission understood from day one that making it possible for charter schools to open this fall was a high priority, and that has been the plan all along," said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen. "Commission members have been putting in long hours on this but has remained focused despite the hard work, and my department will stand behind them and continue to assist in any way we can to move along the process."
It's clear that in other states, charter schools are providing multiple pathways to success for students. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, since the beginning of last year, 23 states have approved new laws aimed at strengthening charter schools, through measures aimed at either promoting their growth.
The new laws include measures to ease or eliminate state caps on charter schools, create new, independent entities to authorize them, and help charters secure more funding or better facilities, says the Alliance.
"States are taking steps that will "significantly move the ball on charters," said Todd Ziebarth, the alliance's vice president for state advocacy and support. The laws are "marrying changes that allow more charters to changes that strengthen accountability."