Charter Schools for Maine? Part 3


Will Maine join the 40 other states which allow the creation of public charter schools?

What happens at today’s work session on LD 1438 will tell us a great deal about the answer to that question. A strong “Ought to Pass” recommendation from the Education Committee would virtually guarantee passage of the bill, while a divided report, especially one divided along party lines, would likely mean prolonged battles over the bill in the House and Senate.

Based on last week’s debate over the bill, a strict “party line” split on the bill is unlikely.  Rep. Alan Casavant, a Democrat from Biddeford, made a motion to pass the bill last week, so at least one Democrat from the committee is likely to join the Republicans and vote to support the bill. 

That the bill is sponsored by high-ranking Democrats such as Sen. Dennis Damon (D-Hancock) and Rep. John Piotti (D-Unity), the House Majority Leader, will likely mean additonal support from Democrats.

And why not?

A new study out this week shows support for charter schools slowly shifting from the political right to the political left.  The study, conducted by researchers from Brown University and the University of Chicago, found that the more respondents knew about how charter schools actually operate, the more likely liberals were to support them, with conservative support  becoming less likely:

Forty-nine percent of conservatives and 36 percent of liberals who
were not provided information supported charter schools. But when they
were told that charter schools are tuition-free and secular, support
dropped among conservatives by 6 percentage points and increased among
liberals by 11 percentage points. Indeed, when provided information,
liberals were 4 percent more likely to support charter schools than
were conservatives
.” the authors reported.

These findings,” they added, “portend a major shift in the political landscape of school choice. Traditionally, charter schools have been viewed as falling primarily within the province of conservatives’ preferred education reforms. Yet our results show that basic facts about the design of charter schools appeal more to liberals. It is quite possible, then, that as the public becomes more informed about these public schools, core support for them may shift from the right to the left of the political spectrum. Indeed, the recent election of a liberal (and presumably well-informed) president who professes strong support of charter schools may be a sign that this process is under way.” 

Will this shift in thinking carry itself all the way to the Education Committee, which is dominated by liberals?

We’ll find out this afternoon. The work session on the charter school bill is at 1pm today. The audio broadcast of the committee’s deliberations can be heard here.