Republicans & Democrats On Education Committee Spar Over Charter School Funding 

Republicans lawmakers in Augusta are accusing Democrats of prolonged and continued attack on charter schools.That charge comes after Democrats voted to force charter schools to join public schools in absorbing some of the governor’s $35-million in cuts as part of his curtailment order.Wednesday in Augusta, the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee voted 8-5 down party lines on an amendment reducing the amount of money school districts are required to send a public charter school for a student who lives in the school district but opts to attend charter schools. The committee voted to apply the same percentage reduction to the amount of per-pupil funds that follow a resident to the public charter school that the sending school district’s state subsidy allotment is reduced by under the governor’s supplemental budget proposal. That saves the state approximately $8,500. “So we were looking at how do we make this as fair as possible,” said Somerville Democratic Senator Chris Johnson. Maine’s Finance Commissioner Sawin Millet told the committee, when he looked at the curtailment budget they excluded cuts of $10,000 or less, like this one to the charter schools, calling them “more trouble than they’re worth.”Republicans on the committee agreed with Millett’s assessment. “When you’re trying to fill a $35 million gap, going after those very small people doesn’t fill the hole,” said Senator Brian Langley, an Ellsworth Republican. “In fact we spend more time talking about it than the net realization of money would have entailed.”With savings of roughly $8,500 total, Millett told the committee “You seem to be focused on a few very small line times.” Republicans are calling this another Democratic attack on charter schools. “The whole sheer number of bills that are aimed at charter schools really lends itself to that,” langley said. “It’s been clearly made known there’s a lot of people against charter schools.”That’s an assertion the Democrats on the committee deny. “We never started there, that wasn’t even something that came up in caucus,” Johnson said. “It’s just a matter of how is this going to impact public schools.”Johnson also pointed out a letter from Glen Cummings, the President and Executive Director of Good Will Hinckley, one of the first charter schools up and running in Maine. In his letter, Cummings supports the committee’s decision. “He understands it’s fair. They’re doing their part like everyone else,” Johnson said.Republicans are openly questioning Cummings’ motive for the endorsement, pointing out that Cummings, a former Democratic Speaker of the House, could have a lot more funding potentially coming Good Will Hinckley’s way in the next biennial budget. “Mr. Cummings is pragmatic, and he likely felt that if he gives a little here, he’ll gain more in the budget process,” said Republican State Representative Joyce Maker who also serves on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. The committee’s recommendation is now in the hands of the Appropriations Committee who will decided if charters schools will also feel the impact of these budget cuts.