LePage Bill Lifts Cap on Charter Schools, Lets Public Money Go to Religious Schools

By Cousins, Christopher | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), May 9, 2013 | Go to article overview

LePage Bill Lifts Cap on Charter Schools, Lets Public Money Go to Religious Schools


Cousins, Christopher, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


AUGUSTA, Maine -- Gov. Paul LePage unveiled two new education proposals Thursday that are sure to stir controversy in the final weeks of the legislative session.

One new proposal by LePage would lift the cap on the number of public charter schools allowed in Maine, make it easier for economically disadvantaged students to transfer to other schools and allow public money to flow to religious schools.

A second LePage proposal would push the cost of remedial courses needed by higher-education students at public institutions to their home school districts.

Both proposals come a day after a LePage spokeswoman and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen told reporters that no major new education proposals were expected from the governor prior to the end of the legislative session next month. The Maine Education Association and the Maine School Management Association assailed both bills as what they called more attacks on public education.

"This is proof the governor will go to great lengths to cause even more harm to our schools," said Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association.

LD 1529, An Act to Expand School Choice for Maine Students, which was printed Thursday, would advance school choice options for Maine students, furthering a long-held goal of the LePage administration that is roundly opposed by educators, teachers unions and Democrats in the Legislature. Sponsored by Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, the bill would allow colleges and universities to authorize public charter schools and remove the 10-school limit on the number of charter schools that can be authorized by the Maine Public Charter School Commission.

In current law, the commission is limited to approving 10 schools within 10 years and local school districts can create as many charter schools as they want. Allowing colleges and universities that authority would be new. Two public charter schools opened last fall and three are slated to open for the next school year.

LD 1529 also includes provisions to help economically disadvantaged students gain greater school choice by providing funding for tuition and transportation to public and private schools, as well as room and board at charter schools. It also allows public funding to flow to private sectarian schools as long as they comply with standards applicable to other private schools.

Kilby-Chesley said this proposal should be "dead in the water."

"This is part of the relentless campaign of the governor to drain funds from our schools," she said. …

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