HOPE — Two bills in the Legislature would limit public school options for Maine children. L.D. 307 and L.D. 513 both seek to cap, prematurely and permanently, seven years of dedicated volunteer efforts by education professionals to create additional public education options for Maine children who need them.

The Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee had to shorten the public hearing on these bills because of a snowstorm, so the committee never heard testimony by some in attendance who opposed these bills or who were prepared to offer relevant information.

At the follow-up work session, much misinformation was presented, technical issues were politicized and pertinent information was ignored. After caucusing, the Democrat majority on the committee voted to approve both bills (8-to-5) with Republicans opposed.

Maine’s public charter schools now serve 2,500 children from 289 towns, who have chosen to attend. Many more children are on waiting lists if space becomes available.

Each child has personal reasons for wanting to leave their assigned district school. They are fortunate that free public charter school options exist. If these two bills become law, how many children will be denied public school options?

Students spoke about why they wanted to transfer: a different curriculum, not fitting in, being bullied, being bored, having health challenges, needing a flexible schedule to pursue special interests.

The Maine Education Association follows the lead of the National Education Association and continues to make false claims about Maine’s charter schools.

• Public charter schools are public, not private. All in Maine are required to be not-for-profit organizations.

• Charter schools do not take money from another public school. If a child chooses to attend a different public school, the student redirects the money legally allocated by taxpayers for their public education.

• Charter schools are open to all Maine students equally, including the economically disadvantaged and those with special education needs. This year, 485 special needs students enrolled, an average of 21.5 percent per school compared to the state 17.5 percent per-school average.

• Maine’s charter schools have a high level of accountability, especially through their contracts with the Charter School Commission. Their operations are transparent and detailed information is available from the schools, from the commission and from the Department of Education.

The truth is easy to learn from the MDOE website (maine.gov/csc). Learning the facts will lead to understanding that Maine has an exceptionally high-quality public charter school program, and that these two bills are unnecessary and unwise.

L.D. 307 reneges on the promise of the enabling law that there was to be a 10-year transition period for learning and adjustment. It would kill the program before considering the commissioner of education’s required eight-year Evaluation Report, due next year.

Three independent, third-party evaluations have already been completed, and all praise Maine’s charter school program. They cite many strengths, and state that the challenges identified are being addressed with some solutions already implemented.

L.D. 307 would prevent local districts from authorizing charter schools within their own jurisdictions, limiting opportunities for superintendents and school boards to provide more pathways for more children to achieve success.

L.D.. 513 would put the same freeze on virtual school enrollment and grades offered that the Maine Charter School Commission has already imposed after cautious consideration. We certainly don’t need a law to do that.

As with Maine’s forest, fishing and farming sectors, Maine’s public education system needs to adapt to changing world conditions and explore new approaches to optimizing the effectiveness of our public education system. Public charter schools, after 27 years and 7,000 schools nationally, have researched, developed and implemented many educational practices worth exploring here in Maine.

We need to find new ways to enhance each student’s potential and achievement and to help communities adapt to demographic and economic changes that threaten sustainability of their local schools. Public charter schools are responding to these challenges and collaborating with local districts whenever possible to develop alternative pathways to better meet the needs of every child.

Please encourage your elected officials in Augusta to oppose L.D. 307 and L.D. 513 on behalf of Maine children.

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