AUGUSTA, Maine — A bid by Gov. Paul LePage to lift a 10-school cap on charter schools and route some taxpayer funding to religious schools failed Tuesday night in the Senate by a vote of 29-6.
LD 1529, An Act to Expand School Choice for Maine Students, was sponsored by Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, on behalf of LePage last month. In addition to removing the cap of 10 charter schools that the Maine Charter School Commission can approve over the course of 10 years, the bill sought to allow colleges and universities to create charter schools and qualify sectarian private schools to receive public funding as long as they comply with standards applicable to other private schools. The bill also would have allowed families of disadvantaged students full school choice with public money covering their tuition, transportation, room and board.
Senate debate over the bill Tuesday night was brief. Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, the co-chair of the Education Committee, said the state should allow Maine’s existing charter schools to prove themselves before lifting the 10-school cap.
“Allowing an unlimited number of public charter schools in Maine would put an untold strain on our already tight education budget,” said Millett. “We need to allow the existing charter schools to operate for a longer amount of time.”
Under Maine’s charter school law, students who switch from traditional public schools to charter schools benefit from a per-pupil allotment following them from their sending school district.
Millett said she also opposed the bill because she wanted to preserve the separation between church and state.
Six Republican senators voted in favor of the bill. They were Mason; Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting; Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden; Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley; Sen, Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport; and Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan.