On March 3, my bill to lift the arbitrary cap on Maine’s charter schools, currently set at 10, was heard before the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, on which I served for many years.

I sponsored the bill because there is no longer a need to have a cap or limit on charter schools in Maine, since state law is filled with assurances that these schools will succeed.

First, let me dispel a few persistent rumors by stating the following from state statutes.

Charter schools are public, nonprofit schools which are open to every student in Maine at no cost to them or their families. There is, by law, no such thing in Maine as a “for-profit” or private charter school. When more students apply to attend a charter school than the school can handle, admissions are handled on a lottery basis.

I have never entirely understood why Democrats in Maine so vehemently oppose charter schools when it is their party members in other states who champion them.

In a Presidential Proclamation issued in 2016, former President Barack Obama said: “Charter schools play an important role in our country’s education system. Supporting some of our Nation’s underserved communities, they can ignite imagination and nourish the minds of America’s young people while finding new ways of educating them and equipping them with the knowledge they need to succeed.”

Hillary Clinton, a supporter of charter schools, said this during her campaign for president in 2016: “When schools get it right, whether they are traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working … and share it with schools across America.”

Also, of the 15 Democratic candidates for president who responded to a questionnaire during the primary, only two opposed non-profit charter schools.

There are no schools in Maine more scrutinized than charter schools. There are also no schools who receive less in public funding. Without a connection to any local communities, charters are not connected to property tax revenues or bonding on the local level.

As a result, they must raise private money from generous charitable donors in order to pay for their buildings, equipment, athletic programs, and other facilities. Any community that has such a school in its region has a quality educational opportunity available to their young people without any cost to the municipal budget.

With this in mind, there is really no reason why we should arbitrarily set a limit on charter schools. While our state laws require that charters operate on the thinnest of margins, they continue to innovate.

The state’s public charter schools not only undergo a rigorous selection process but must accept significant monitoring at set intervals with a strenuous framework that allows the public to see how the charter schools are doing.  The Charter School Commission reviews school performance multiple times throughout the year to ensure that public charters are delivering on the promises in their contracts, holding the heads of school and governing board chairs accountable.

The other major reason we no longer need a cap on the number of charters is that they are subject to the judgement of parents. If a family decides that the charter where their child is enrolled is no longer living up to their expectations, they can simply return

their child to the local traditional public school. When enough of them do so, the charter school will cease to operate.

There are more than enough checks in place to prevent poor-quality charter schools in Maine. The arbitrary cap of ten provides no guarantee and simply limits the possibility that some new great idea for a school, backed by enthusiastic parents and donors, from coming forward on behalf of Maine students.

Matt Pouliot of Augusta, a Republican, is in his second term in the state Senate, where he is assistant minority leader.


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