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Legislature poised to give Gov. Janet Mills unprecedented power over charter schools

Governor Janet Mills smiles for a picture outside her office. Photo courtesy Governor Janet Mills Facebook page.

AUGUSTA – Democrats in the Maine Legislature this week gave initial approval to a bill that will give Governor Janet Mills power over Maine’s charter schools that is unprecedented in the eight year history of public charter schools in Maine.

Since the passage of a law in 2011 allowing the creation of public charter schools in Maine, Maine’s teachers union and political left have targeted their existence with bills to cut funding and increase restrictions on them in every legislative session.

Now, it appears that opponents of charter schools have found a way to take greater control of charter schools at the very top of Maine’s charter school governance structure.

Both the Maine House and Senate in party line votes have approved a law that hands Governor Janet Mills the ability to appoint a majority four out of the seven members of the Maine Charter School Commission. Previously, all seven members of the commission were appointed by the Maine Board of Education.

The law also extends the length of the term for the four members appointed by Mills to four years, while leaving the terms of the three members appointed by the Board of Education at just three years.

Governor Mills’ history with alternatives to public schools is well known.

In March, just after she took office, Mills refused to recognize Maine homeschoolers for Maine Home Education Week. That decision broke a 32-year bipartisan tradition of recognition by Maine Governors.

The Mills administration also announced this spring that the Maine Department of Education would be eliminating the AP4ALL program for Maine students. That program, administered through University of Maine at Fort Kent, allows Maine high school students to take college level advanced placement courses for free.

Mills’ has also unequivocally stated that opposes using any public funds for new public charter schools, telling the NEA, a national teachers union organization so in a September 2018 interview.

The bill to hand Gov. Mills control of a majority of the votes on the Maine Charter School Commission has passed in initial votes in the Maine House and Senate in party line votes. Republicans opposed the change and legislative Democrats, who have long targeted charter schools, supported the bill.

The Maine Education Association, Maine’s loudest critics of charter schools in Maine, spent heavily to support the election of Janet Mills and Democrats in the Maine Legislature.

Maine currently has nine public charter schools, with two of those nine being virtual public charter schools. Charter schools are located in the Lewiston/Auburn area, Portland, Cornville, Gray, Harpswell, Hinckley, and Sidney as well as the two virtual schools, which each educate children from more than 100 Maine school districts.

The Maine Charter School commission oversees Maine’s charter schools, including the authorization of the creation of new charter schools. Maine currently has one charter school spot remaining out of the ten that the original law allowed it to create.

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