Charter Schools Funding Comes Under Attack At State House 

Lawmakers are considering changes to Maine’s charter school law that would drastically impact their funding. If approved, charter school supporters say it could mean the end of these schools in Maine.The series of bills would require local voters’ approval for new charter schools and also cut the amount of money local school districts have to pay the charter schools, stripping much of the funding for charter schools. “They have a contract. They have a 5 year contract with the state to operate,” said Maine Association For Charter Schools Executive Director Roger Brainerd. “It would be pretty dismal for Maine to pull the rug out from under them when they’re doing what they’re supposed to.”With the opening of charter schools in Cornville and Hinckley, Skowhegan’s school district has been hard hit. When students transfer to the charter schools, the tax money allotted for them to attend public school goes with them. Skowhegan school officials estimate they’ll lose roughly $650,000 through next year due to students transferring to those two charter schools. That’s tough for a district that has cut thirty positions since 2010. “Things are looking very grim for us,” said Jeremy Lehan, an English teacher at Skowhegan High School. “We’re looking at cutting roughly 11 teachers and scaling back programming. It’s not good.”But these proposals could leave students like Alexander West, who’s getting ready to graduate from the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Hinckley out in the cold. West, who most recently attended Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, says no one could put their finger on why he struggled at public schools. “That was a big kind of a juxtaposition, the fact that I would test really well, but that doesn’t earn you credits in public school,” West said.Since coming to the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, he’s flourished and is now considering where he’ll attend college.Governor LePage joined many other charter school advocates at a State House press conference denouncing the proposed funding cuts to Maine charter schools. “To the parents who stand up for their children and allow them to go to charter schools, I commend you for identifying what is best for your children,” LePage told the crowd.Members of the Maine Education Association say they’re supporting the bills to cut the funding, but they’re not opposed to charter schools. They simply don’t want to siphon money from Maine’s public schools to pay for them. “What it does is money going to the minority of students and taking away from the majority of students,” said Lois Kilby-Chesley, President of the MEA.So what does the MEA suggest we do for students who struggle in public schools? “What we do with public schools is we try to meet the needs of children with challenges. Sometimes what we end up having to do is to find another place, some sort of a special placement for them,” Kilby-Chesley said.Lawmakers must decide if there’s enough state money to split between public schools and charter schools. The state hasn’t fully funded public schools in nearly a decade. In 2004 voters approved an initiative that requires the state to fund 55% of education costs. The state has yet to hit that mark.