March 29, 2013

Bills to limit charter schools funding, approval slated for Monday hearings

By Susan McMillan
Staff Writer

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Jones, of the Maine Association for Charter Schools, expressed dismay at legislators' attempts to cut charter school funding. The four charter schools that have been approved built their financial plans based on current law, Jones said, and it's also a matter of equity for students attending different types of schools.

"If these were your grandchildren, would you want to see one grandchild have half the resources or less of another grandchild?" she said.

Rep. Karen Kusiak, D-Fairfield, said her bill, L.D. 1057, is not intended to harm charter schools, although it would end all transfers of money from school districts.

Kusiak's bill would require the state to create a funding source for charter schools separate from the General Purpose Aid provided to school districts.

In addition, virtual charter schools would be barred from receiving any state or local funds except for students who enroll because of an educational disruption, such as homelessness, a medical emergency or foster care placement.

"I do not want to have local tax dollars go out of a school district's jurisdiction or go out of (a school administrative unit) to support a school over which the taxpayers have no say — no way to address curriculum, instruction, class sizes, any of the kinds of things that local taxpayers do when they come to their local district budget meeting," Kusiak said.

The bill recognizes the funding needs of charter schools, Kusiak said, and is intended to provide more money to go around.

Local control is also a concern for Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco. His bill, L.D. 1056, would make charter school authorizations by the Maine Charter School Commission subject to voter approval in a referendum in the municipalities where the school would recruit students.

Jones said that would make it almost impossible for charter schools to open and that local residents have a say during the public hearing portion of the existing application process and in the decision on where to enroll their children in school.

"People vote with their feet because this is an entirely voluntary model," she said. "If they don't like the option that has been created through the public charter school model, they don't choose to send their kids. This is the real voting."

Chenette said a public hearing isn't sufficient because only a few people may attend, and the Charter School Commission is not bound by their input. He said he would support any charter school approved by local voters because then it's clear what the community wants.

"This has nothing to do with whether you like or dislike charter schools," he said. "This is all about local control."

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

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