Questions & Answers

Do you have additional questions about Maine's public charter school law? This page might have the answers. Keep in mind that more information will become available as the Maine Department of Education works to implement the charter school law.

If you have a question not answered on this page, click here to submit it. Your question will be answered as Department of Education staff time allows, and it could be added to this webpage, which will be updated with additional information as the charter school law is implemented.

Questions

A. General

  1. What is a public charter school?
  2. Are there any charter schools in Maine?
  3. When will charter schools open in Maine?

B. Starting a Charter School

  1. Who can start a public charter school?
  2. How is a public charter school formed?
  3. Who can authorize a charter school in Maine?
  4. Can a private school become a public charter school?

C. Authorizers

  1. What is the role of an authorizer?

D. Educational Program

  1. Will charter school students be taught based on the Maine Learning Results?
  2. Are the school year and school day requirements the same for charter schools as for noncharter public schools?
  3. Will charter school students participate in the statewide testing program?

E. Enrolling in a Public Charter School

  1. Who can enroll in a public charter school?
  2. Can charter schools choose which students they want to enroll?

F. Health and Safety

  1. Is a charter school subject to any health or safety regulations?

G. Staffing

  1. Will staff of a public charter school be subject to fingerprinting and background checks?
  2. Are teacher and administrators required to be certified?
  3. Can teachers employed by a public charter school join a union?

H. Special Education

  1. Can a student with special education needs attend a public charter school?
  2. Who funds the services provided to a public charter school student under an IEP?

I. Funding of Charter Schools

  1. How is a public charter school funded?
  2. What public funds will be provided to a charter school?

J. Charter School Facilities

  1. Who provides or pays for facilities for public charter schools?
  2. What standards apply to charter school facilities?
  3. Are there any limits on the location of a public charter school?

Answers

A. General

A-1. What is a public charter school?

A public charter school is a public school operated under the terms of a contract between an “authorizer” and the school’s governing board. The school’s charter application specifies how the governing board is created.

A charter school must accept any Maine resident student who wishes to attend the school, unless the school or a grade level at the school is overenrolled. Some state laws and rules that apply to noncharter public schools are waived, in order to give the charter school flexibility with educational programming. Public charter schools are subject to the same health, safety, civil rights and student assessment requirements as noncharter public schools.

A-2. Are there any charter schools in Maine?

Five public charter schools in Maine are currently in operation: Baxter Academy for Technology and Science in Portland; Cornville Regional Charter School in Cornville; Fiddlehead School of Arts and Science in Gray; Harpswell Coastal Academy in Harpswell; and Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Hinckley.  

A-3. When did charter schools open in Maine?

Maine's first public charter schools opened in the 2012-13 school year.

B. Starting a Charter School

B-1. Who can start a public charter school?

Any nonprofit, nonreligious organization can apply to an authorizer for permission to start a school under Maine's public charter school law.

If the organizers of the new charter school were affiliated with a previous school or education program, they must form a separate Maine nonprofit organization in order to qualify to receive state or federal grant funds.

B-2. How is a public charter school formed?

A public charter school may be a new school (a start-up charter) or it may be a traditional public school that converts to a public charter school (a conversion charter).

People who are interested in forming a charter school must form a nonprofit, nonreligious organization to operate the school, form a Board of Directors, formulate plans for the school, and apply to an authorizer for a charter.

B-3. Who can authorize a charter school in Maine?

Any school administrative unit (SAU) school board is eligible to authorize a charter school within the boundaries of the SAU. Although the school must be located within the boundaries of the SAU, it can accept students from anywhere in the state. SAU boards are not required to serve as authorizers; the Department of Education website will have a list of SAUs interested in authorizing a charter school.

The Maine Charter School Commission has authority to authorize a charter school anywhere in the state. The Charter School Commission has seven members, all appointed by the State Board of Education.

A group of school administrative unit school boards, or school boards acting in conjunction with the Commission, may also authorize a charter school.

B-4. Can a private school become a public charter school?

There is no specific process for “converting” a private school to a charter school. An organization involved with a private school can form a separate nonprofit, nonreligious organization to apply for a charter. If granted the charter, the organization might be able to use the existing private school facilities, methodologies and staff in its charter school. However, the public charter school cannot limit access to its existing pool of students, or charge tuition for enrollment. A public charter school is open to all students in the State who meet the age or grade range of the school.

C. Authorizers

C-1. What is the role of an authorizer?

An authorizer determines what type of charter school it wants to see created, and issues an RFP (Request for Proposals) seeking applications from organizations that want to create a charter school meeting the authorizer’s vision.

An authorizer evaluates applications to form a charter school, using procedures, practices, criteria and standards that are consistent with nationally recognized principles and standards.

After it has approved one or more applications, the authorizer negotiates the terms of the charter contract with the founding organization. The contract sets forth the performance and operational expectations of the authorizer.

The authorizer must oversee the charter school’s performance, and seek corrections if the school is failing to comply with the terms of its contract or applicable laws and rules. The authorizer may terminate a charter contract if the school’s performance is not made satisfactory.

Before the end of a charter term, the authorizer must decide whether to renew the charter contract, based on the authorizer’s stated criteria for evaluating the school’s performance.

D. Educational Program

D-1. Will charter school students be taught based on the Maine Learning Results?

Yes. Students attending charter schools will be expected to master the same academic standards as all other students attending public schools in Maine.

D-2. Are the school year and school day requirements the same for charter schools as for noncharter public schools?

No. Charter schools are not subject to the requirement of 175 instruction days or a school day of at least 3 hours. This enables charter schools to design alternative schedules, which could include elements such as a longer school year or shorter classroom days. However, students must meet at least the same accountability standards as noncharter public school students.

D-3. Will charter school students participate in the statewide testing program?

Yes. Charter school students are subject to the same state assessments as noncharter public school students. They may also be subject to specific assessments and standards set forth in the charter school’s performance contract.

E. Enrolling in a Public Charter School

E-1. Who can enroll in a public charter school?

Any student who is a resident of Maine is eligible to enroll in a public charter school. If space is available, a charter school may enroll non-resident students.

E-2. Can charter schools choose which students they want to enroll?

No. A charter school must accept any student who wants to enroll there, provided the student falls within the age or grade levels served by the school. If there are not enough slots at the school, or in a program or a class, for all students who want to attend, the school must conduct a random selection process to determine which students may attend the charter school. There are some exceptions to the general rule.

Exceptions to this general rule are as follows:

  • A charter school that is formed by converting a noncharter public school to a public charter school must give enrollment preference to students who reside in the former attendance area of the noncharter public school.
  • Students who are attending the public charter school, and their siblings, must be given enrollment preference in the next school year.
  • A charter school may give priority to the children of the charter school’s founders, members of the governing board and full-time employees. No more than 10 percent of the total student population may receive priority under this provision.

F. Health and Safety

F-1. Is a charter school subject to any health or safety regulations?

Yes. A charter school is subject to the same health and safety standards as a noncharter public school. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Requirement for students to be immunized
  • Standards for administration of medication
  • Reporting of bomb threats
  • Emergency management planning
  • Air quality standards
  • Local building codes

G. Staffing

G-1. Will staff of a public charter school be subject to fingerprinting and background checks?

Yes. Charter school employees are subject to the same fingerprinting and background check requirements as noncharter public school employees.

G-2. Are teachers and administrators required to be certified?

Full-time teachers in a public charter school must meet one of the following criteria:

  1. Hold an appropriate teaching certificate;
  2. Become certified within three years of hiring; or
  3. Have an advanced degree, professional certification or unique expertise or experience in the curricular area in which they teach.

Public charter school administrators are not required to be certified.

Regardless of certification, all school staff must be fingerprinted and undergo a background check.

G-3. Can teachers employed by a public charter school join a union?

Yes. Public charter school teachers have the same rights to bargain collectively as teachers in noncharter public schools. However, if they unionize, they must form a bargaining unit separate from any existing units.

H. Special Education

H-1. Can a student with special education needs attend a public charter school?

Yes. Federal laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), apply to public charter schools in the same manner as they apply to other public schools. In addition, Maine law specifically states that students may not be discriminated against in enrollment on the basis of mental or physical disability.

H-2. Who funds the services provided to a public charter school student under an IEP?

If the charter school was authorized by the Charter School Commission, the charter school itself is responsible for providing and funding special education services. If the charter school was authorized by a local school board, the local school board is responsible for providing and funding special education services to the child.

I. Funding of Public Charter Schools

I-1. How is a public charter school funded?

A public charter school will receive public funds based on the number of students who attend the school, the age and other characteristics of the students who attend, and the programs offered at the school. A public charter school board may also seek and accept public and private grants, gifts and donations to fund its operations.

I-2. What public funds will be provided to a charter school?

Public school funding will “follow the child” from the school district where the student resides to the public charter school the student attends, wherever that school is located. See the Funding section of the Charter School Founders and Operators page for a detailed explanation.

J. Charter School Facilities

J-1. Who provides or pays for facilities for public charter schools?

There are no State funds dedicated to paying for public charter school facilities. The charter school law gives public charter school operators a right of first refusal for school buildings that are being sold or leased by a school district from which it draws students.

J-2. What standards apply to charter school facilities?

Facilities have to meet local building code standards, including fire, safety and handicapped access requirements. The municipality in which the school is located (or the county if the school is located in an unorganized territory) has jurisdiction over inspecting the facility and issuing a certificate of occupancy.

Charter schools are also subject to health and safety laws, so standards such as air quality standards and use of chemicals in schools would also apply to charter schools.

J-3. Are there any limits on the location of a public charter school?

The charter school law does not specifically address school location, so the Maine DOE will consider the need for a statutory change or a rule to clarify any limits. Student safety will be the primary consideration in any regulation of location. Traffic concerns, existence of hazardous materials or dangerous activities near the location should all be taken into consideration when locating a charter school.