Before moving our family back to central Maine, my husband and I began the search for quality elementary school options for our children. In our community where we used to live, we were fortunate to have an abundance of public charter school options. As a former teacher, I appreciated the innovative curriculums and hands-on experiential learning opportunities that many of the charter school alternatives offered.
Thus began our journey to Cornville Regional Charter School.
Two years ago, Maine became the 41st state to make public charter schools an option for parents and students. After years of researching the issue and extracting best practices from other states, our legislators came together in bipartisan fashion to pass one of the most comprehensive pieces of charter school legislation in the country.
The passage proved to be a resounding success, earning Maine the No. 2 ranking by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Today, two public charter schools are up and running in the state, with a handful more set to open in the fall.
Like traditional public schools, charter schools are open to every student who wishes to enroll. In the event that applications outstrip the number of seats available — as was the case in Cornville this year — a lottery is held to determine enrollment.
Charter schools differ from public schools in that they are given increased freedom from regulations to allow school leaders to develop innovative approaches to educating their students. To ensure students get a great education, they are held to the same state and federal academic standards as traditional public schools.
This formula has worked across the country, and it is working here in Maine. In getting to know the people behind Cornville, I found they were just like me. They thought the needs of their child would be best met in a school different from the local traditional public school and wanted the ability to make that choice.
I witnessed firsthand the grassroots efforts, the two years it took to put together the 650-page charter application, the dozens of volunteers who pulled Internet wires, painted the school, waxed the floors and did everything they could to ensure our little school would open its doors.
The results have been astonishing for our family. Our boys have never talked so much about what they do during school, and, believe it or not, recess is not their favorite part of the day.
As a Maine parent, I could not be happier with the Cornville charter school. The dedicated and hardworking teachers have developed personal learning plans for all students, including my boys, and I can’t say enough how heartwarming it is to have my children engaged and accelerating their learning in a way that best fits their needs.
Our principal often says, “Each child is their own school,” and at Cornville, I have my full trust in the staff that they are and will continue to provide all of their students with excellent learning opportunities.
Yet, all of this progress is in real jeopardy. The Legislature in Augusta is set to consider a wave of legislation that would cripple charter schools in the state.
Last week, the Education & Cultural Affairs committee considered LD 533, “An Act to Eliminate the Requirement That Local Funding Follow a Pupil to a Charter School,” and LD 889, which proposes “the school administrative unit in which the student resides must forward 50 percent of the per-pupil allocation to the public charter school.”
Is it fair to eliminate local funding for charter school students? Should charter school students only receive 50 percent of the per-pupil allocation that the state has determined is the cost of producing a high-quality education? Why are these public school students any different than the students attending traditional public schools? These and many more questions deserve an answer.
It is heartbreaking that legislators in Augusta, who so often emphasize fairness and equality, can put forth legislation that is so easily identifiable as the opposite of fair. Most of these legislators have never been to Cornville, never seen the inspiring work done by teachers and students and never talked to the leadership there about the overwhelming satisfaction of our parents.
I sincerely hope that legislators take time to hear about the incredible work taking place in our charter schools and think twice before passing legislation that will destroy these wonderful opportunities that Maine’s students and families deserve.
Jodie Mosher-Towle of Smithfield is the parent of twin boys in the 5th grade at the Cornville Regional Charter School.