Two Maine charter schools got major federal grants Monday to help them develop their programs and share best practices with other charter schools.

Cornville Regional School received $242,329 and the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences received $189,834 from the U.S. Department of Education under the three-year grant program. They were among 17 grants worth $2.8 million.

“Effective charter schools continue to offer bright ideas and viable solutions to challenges facing the education system,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement. “The schools can be laboratories of innovation in teaching and learning for students, parents and teachers.”

Cornville and MEANS, located at the former Good Will-Hinckley School in Fairfield, both opened last fall. Three more charter schools opened this year, bringing Maine’s total to five charter schools. A total of 10 charter schools are allowed under current law.

Maine’s charter schools receive public funding but are formed and operated by parents, teachers and community leaders, and are exempt from certain regulations that apply to public schools. They have become a partisan issue in Maine, strongly backed by Governor Paul LePage and conservative groups, and opposed by some legislators and others who want to protect funding for traditional public schools.

The U.S. DOE grants prioritized schools in rural communities, serving students with disabilities and English learners. All grantees have student populations that are at least 50 percent from low-income families, officials said.

The grants are part of a $240 million commitment this fiscal year to support public charter schools through the department’s Charter School Program. President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2104 budget requests $294 million for similar grants that benefit and support charter schools.

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