PORTLAND, Maine — No new charter schools are expected to open in Maine this school year or next due to a lack of applications, the Maine charter school commission said.
There were no serious contenders to open a 10th charter school by the late August state deadline despite some existing charters having waitlists because of high demand, the commission said.
About 2,000 students attend nine Maine charter schools. Last October, a private school serving pregnant teens and high school drop-outs withdrew its application to become a public charter school, opening up a 10th slot.
Local school boards can approve an unlimited number of charter schools, however none has ever opened any.
The lack of applications in Maine points to the strength of the state’s law, which was passed years after many other states allowed charter schools, said Judith Jones, board chair for the Maine Association for Charter Schools.
“You really have to have not only a good curriculum plan, and a good team to focus the academics, you have to have a really good business plan,” Jones said. She said Maine doesn’t provide charter schools with funds for facilities or startup costs, even as she said more families are seeking other education options like virtual education.
Several Republican lawmakers and state Education Commissioner Bob Hasson say waitlists of interested families show there’s a need for new charter schools. Two groups considering launching new charter schools have sent the state letters of interest but have not yet submitted full applications.
Former charter school founder Andrea Faurot, who sent one of the letters, hopes to start a Stanwood Montessori school in eastern Maine. She said securing startup funds is a challenge.
“They are really only funding charters that have already been approved,” Faurot said of potential funding sources, such as federal grants. “When you go through approvals they want to see you have all this funding.”
Under a 2011 state law, Maine can only approve 10 schools in 10 years. A provision in the $7.1 billion, two-year state budget that passed in July changed that law to allow the independent Maine charter school commission to approve new schools to fill slots left open by shuttered charter schools.
Charter school opponents, like Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley, say they have concerns about quality, supervision and accountability issues at public charter schools that are set to receive $19 million this school year.
“We have taxpayer money going to schools where taxpayers don’t get a say in the way schools are run,” she said.