AUGUSTA – Maine’s finance and education commissioners questioned Education Committee action on Wednesday that they called the opening salvo in a campaign to undermine the state’s new public charter schools before they have barely gotten started.
For the second time this week, the Committee took up the education portion of the supplemental budget, which must plug a more than $100 million shortfall in the current fiscal year. A majority of committee members, on a party line vote, supported a measure that would reduce the payments school districts make to public charter schools for the cost of their students to attend them.
“Out of the hundreds of public and private schools in Maine, the Democrats on the Committee only went after the two charter schools, both of them in their first year of operation, and with a combined student enrollment of 106 students,” said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen. “There are no real budget savings to be had there. The clear intent of this action was for Democrats to send a message that they want charter schools to fail.”
The proposal will save one district less than $2,500 and a handful of other districts far less. The committee left untouched other schools, such as the state magnet school in Limestone.
“While the Administration is focused on a historic budget gap and we are trying to offer real solutions to our state’s budgetary and education problems, the vote by the Education Committee today was an inequitable overreach and is fiscally inconsequential to the process,” said Commissioner Sawin Millett of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.
Many Democrats joined with Republicans two years ago in passing charter school legislation, making Maine the 40th state with that option for its students and families.
“It’s unfortunate that it looks like there’s been a political calculation here that’s become more important to some than honoring the work of the last Legislature or the need to put students first,” Bowen said. “They are undermining the work of people and organizations who are giving a handful of students in the state an opportunity, a chance to engage in school in a way that works better for them.”