LePage signs charter schools into law

The following is a press release sent by the office of Gov. Paul LePage.

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Contact: Adrienne Bennett (207) 287-2531

AUGUSTA, Maine – Governor Paul LePage signed on Wednesday the charter school bill that creates more educational options for students. LD 1553 allows for the formation of public charter schools in Maine for the first time.

Governor LePage high-fived a group of students seated behind a desk in the Hall of Flags before sitting down to sign the bill at a State House ceremony.

Gov. Paul LePage signs a bill that authorizes charter schools in Maine.“This is all about the kids,” said Governor LePage. “This is about giving students choices in their education that will help them succeed. Every student deserves an education that works for him or her and public charter schools, which are approved and working in 40 other states, are one more way we can reach those children.”

Echoing the Governor’s remarks, Senator Garrett Mason (R – Androscoggin) stressed the importance of putting Maine children first. “Let me be very clear – the traditional public school system works great for most Maine kids, but the system we need to strive for is one that truly leaves no child behind,” Sen. Mason said. “Charter schools recognize that publice school innovation in pursuit of excellence is long overdue. Charter schools are not a silver bullet, but part of a new educational silver buckshot that will increase our chances of reaching every Maine child.”

Under the new law, a school district, group of school districts, or a new state charter commission can charter a school. Public charter schools have more flexibility than traditional public schools. While they are subject to the same state assessments and federal accountability requirements, charter schools can: implement innovative governance structures, such as teacher-leaders; may be flexible with their learning schedules, offering evening or weekend class time; can orient instruction toward a particular style of learning; and can hire teachers who may have particular experiences but not state certification.

“Our work in Maine is focused on freeing schools up to be transformative,” said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen. “That means removing barriers so our traditional public schools can innovate, and opening up charter schools to push the educational envelope and engage our students in new ways. This will provide opportunities for students, families, and teachers who are also looking to explore alternate approaches to education.”

LD 1553, a bipartisan measure, will make federal grants available for charter schools and for the Maine Department of Education. Charter school operators will be accountable to the school district or state charter commission that authorizes them, and the Department.

Dozens of supporters — including parents, students and members of the Maine Association for Charter Schools — attended the bill signing, demonstrating their enthusiasm and offering their perspective.

“Many educators and others have been concerned and fearful about the potential impacts of public charter schools on existing schools and districts,” said Judith Jones who is the Board Chair of the Maine Association for Charter Schools. “As we look at the evidence from other states, we see many innovations and successes, as well as lessons to be learned.   We see public charter schools that are responsive to student needs, safe, academically challenging, financially sound, and open and transparent in their governance and operations. We look forward to working with superintendents, parents, and citizens to craft new opportunities for Maine students.”