The Maine Legislature fought for years against the establishment of charter schools, a reform with a long track record in most other states.

The fight was supposed to have ended last year, when Republicans took control of state government, but it’s clear that legal hurdles still are interfering with the implementation of this new school structure.

The problem is that new charter schools will have to get commitments from families by Feb. 15, which is long before the new schools can be approved by a state board, which is still being organized.

Requiring this leap of faith is not the way to produce an orderly transition to a new program.

The Legislature should act promptly, and reverse the order of these steps and make the state commit to the new schools before families are asked to.

Contrary to what the critics say, charter schools are public schools that experiment with curriculum and organizational structures to reach children who are not being served in traditional settings.

Students are responsible for meeting the same standards and take the same tests as students in other schools. Like all public schools, charters are required to accept all interested students, regardless of disability or other special needs.

They are not a panacea to what ails America’s schools, but in states that use them they have proven to be an alternative that provides students with a choice, producing results at least as good as what they could expect from a traditional school. In some cases, they create an opportunity for success that would not have been possible elsewhere.

Asking parents to sign up for schools that are not yet approved will provide a distorted image of how many people are looking for an alternative. It also could unnecessarily raise the hopes of kids who sign up for a new school, only to have the opportunity yanked away from them at the state level.

In the first year of Maine charter schools, the state should strive to get this program off to a good start.

The debate on whether Maine should have charter schools is over: Now it’s time to make them work for the families that want to use them.


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