President Barack Obama declared May 5-11, 2013 National Charter Schools Week, calling chartered schools “learning laboratories (that) give educators the chance to try new models and methods that can encourage educational excellence in the classroom.” That is indeed happening in Maine and Wisconsin where I traveled that week.
Maine: The 41st Charter School State
Maine is just starting its chartering journey, having passed its law in 2011. Two charter schools are open, and three more are approved to open this fall. It was déjà vu for my Minnesota journey 20 years ago. This is a critical time for Maine families. The first years after passage of a charter school law are the most vulnerable—it takes time to build a charter school constituency. How the chartered school message is shaped today will determine the future of chartering tomorrow in Maine. Opponents are battling hard to weaken the second strongest charter school law in the country—using the same myths raised in Minnesota long ago.
That’s why I spent several days at the beautiful capitol in Augusta, Maine, talking with legislators, chartering supporters, and opponents, including union leaders and (regrettably) most Democrats. In my view, a key reason that chartering will succeed in Maine is because of the impressive work being done by the Maine Charter School Commission. Their well-respected members are spending hundreds of hours of volunteer time reviewing applications and setting up a strong process for authorizing new chartered schools. They rise above local politics. I was delighted to spend time with Commission Chair Jana Lapoint (pictured right) and other members of the Commission.
Another reason charter schools will succeed in Maine is the passion I heard from parents, teachers and students for schools they will attend this fall—even though they haven’t opened yet! That passion comes in part from Executive Director Roger Brainerd and Board Chair Judith Denton Jones of the Maine Association for Charter Schools, who have worked for years to bring chartering to Maine. They are seasoned veterans of chartering battles. I was pleased to support them in their efforts.
The Association lined me up with multiple media interviews where I could help introduce Maine families to this new public school choice opportunity. Check out the Bagnor radio interview, the Augusta radio interview and the press release. I would love to go back to Maine in September to celebrate the opening of three more chartered schools—the longer the journey, the more sweet it is to see those schools open at last!