Charter Schools for Maine? Probably not…

Charter Schools for Maine? Probably not…

May 22, 2009 Posted by Maine Heritage Policy Center - No Comments

The result of two divisive work sessions on the charter school bill was a 8-5 divided report against the bill, which now goes to the Senate, and then on to the House.  With both of the Senate Democrats on the Education Committee against the bill, it is safe to say that it will be a miracle if the bill even makes it out of the Senate, much less passes the House.

Some history may be in order.

In 2006, the 122nd Legislature debated, and ultimately defeated, a bill to authorize charter schools, LD 1640. Only one Democrat who was in the Senate during the 122nd legislature and is still there today, Dennis Damon, voted in favor of LD 1640.

Current Senate Democrats Lawrence Bliss, Joe Brannigan, Margaret Craven, Stan Gerzofsky, Troy Jackson, Lisa Marrache and Deborah Simpson were all in the House in 2006 and all voted against LD 1640, as did then-House Republicans Gerry Davis, Earle McCormick, Roger Sherman, and David Trahan, all of whom are also in the Senate today. Senator Kevin Raye, who is now the Senate Republican Leader, voted against LD 1640 as well.

This adds up to 19 of 20 Senate Democrats likely to vote against this year’s charter school bill, and 5 of 15 Republicans.  Even if one or two of the Senators who opposed charter schools in the past changes his or her vote, the bill is almost certainly doomed.

So, yet another triumph for the status quo. Today’s Portland Press Herald hits it right on the head:

So far, opponents [of charter schools] continue to offer the same stale complaints. The
most common is the claim that charter schools divert money from public
schools. But charter schools are public schools. They are created by
contract with a school district or an institution of higher learning
and use the same mix of state and local tax dollars on a per-pupil
basis to teach the same kids.

It is reasonable to expect, especially at first, that charter
schools will start small and attract relatively few students, which
should not have major impact on the sending school’s budget. But, as
Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford, pointed out this week, if large
numbers of students are fleeing a local school, “that would tell you
that something’s wrong” with the school and not with the charter school
option.

Rep. Casavant, by the way, should be regarded as a hero to the cause of charter schools. He worked extraordinarily hard, even after the bill had been voted on by the committee, to get some kind of charter school bill passed. He is to be commended for his efforts.

“Opponents of charter schools,” the paper concludes, “tend to be those who have a vested
interest in the system the way it is – teachers’ unions and
superintendents.”
  This is unquestionably true.  Not a single parent spoke out against the charter school bill.  Its only opponents were, as I described earlier, the forces of the status quo – the various associations representing the teachers, principals, superintendents, and school boards.

They have, it would appear, triumphed once again, meaning Maine will likely remain one of only 10 states in the nation that will not even experiment, even in a limited and highly regulated way, with an approach to education reform that has transformed schools across the nation.

As one disheartened charter supporter told be yesterday, “Dirigo means what again? ‘I Lead?'”

Not this time.