AUGUSTA, Maine — The Department of Education on Wednesday released a new set of rules to govern charter schools in Maine. Mostly the rules surround finances and fill in holes left in the recently adopted charter school statute.
“Some people might have been expecting [the new rules] to say what type of charter schools Maine will have. That’s not our job, that’s the [task of the] charter school commission. This is about funding, transportation, so we targeted issues that the law didn’t address clearly enough,” said Deborah Friedman, the Maine Department of Education’s director of policy and programs.
The department will leave the philosophical questions and other aspects about how Maine charter schools will be developed up to the Maine State Charter School Commission. The state Board of Education has appointed the first three members of the commission, but four more members are required.
Maine is the 41st state to adopt legislation to allow the schools. The charter school law allows the approval of up to 10 public charter schools in the next 10 years by the commission. In addition, individual public school boards can convert schools within their district into charter schools, which allows them to create education programs free from some of the restrictions and regulations that apply to public schools. No charter schools can be approved before July 2012, according to the law.
Students who choose to attend charter schools will be funded by dollars that follow them from their traditional school system, a provision that was at the core of opposition to the bill from people worried about already stressed school districts losing precious education dollars. To avoid major impacts on traditional schools, the charter school law puts limits in the first three years on how many students from a given school can enroll.
Referring to the rules released this week, Friedman said Thursday that they would clarify some issues not addressed by the law.
For instance, the law didn’t delve into issues surrounding funding for students from gifted and talented programs or from technical and career programs who transfer from a public school to a charter school. The average tuition, or per pupil cost, in public schools statewide is $9,600.
The new rules clarify that a proportional amount of additional money from the public school will transfer with the gifted and talented student to the charter school. On the other hand, the charter school will receive no money from a school district for technical and career programming.
“A charter school does not pay for its students to attend career and technical education programs, and therefore is not entitled to career and technical education funding,” the new rules state.
The new rules will be discussed at a public hearing Nov. 22 in Augusta before going back to the Department of Education for review. After any changes, they will go to the Legislature for review, another public hearing will be held, and then lawmakers will decide if the department can adopt them.
For more information on the new rules, visit http://www.maine.gov/education/rulechanges.htm.