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What is a Public Charter School?
Charter schools are public schools of choice. Students can decide to attend a charter school as an alternative to the district public school to which they have been assigned. The first enactment of charter school enabling legislation was in Minnesota in 1991. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 43 states and the District of Columbia have charter schools; 3.2 million students are enrolled in 7,000 charter schools nationwide; and there are 219,000 teachers teaching in charter schools.
Charter schools are publicly funded schools, created and governed by volunteers in a non-profit organization, and operated independently of the traditional public school system. Charter schools have some flexibility that traditional public schools may not have over decisions concerning curriculum and instruction, scheduling, staffing and finance.
In return for this flexibility, charter schools are held accountable to the terms of contracts (their charters) that authorize their existence. In addition, they must adhere to all applicable federal laws, health and safety laws, and the same academic standards to which all public schools are accountable.
Each charter school must be authorized by a charter school "authorizer". Maine's law designates as authorizers: (1) the Maine Charter School Commission; (2) a local school board; or (3) a collaborative of school boards working together.
A charter school is awarded a charter if its application is approved by its authorizer after a rigorous review process. At that point, a contract is negotiated specifying the measures by which the school will be evaluated as the authorizer monitors the school's performance, especially in the areas of finance and academics.
When Public Law 2011, Chapter 414 took effect in 2011, Maine became the 41st state to allow public charter schools.
Charter contracts for schools authorized by the Maine Charter School Commission are for five years, over which time the MCSC will carefully analyze the school's performance. If a charter school fails to measure up, it may be closed. If it is judged successful, financially stable and achieving positive student achievement, its contract may be renewed for five or more years.
Maine's first charter schools opened in the 2012-13 school year, and today the following nine charter schools enroll over 2,400 students and are authorized by the Maine Charter School Commission to operate in Maine -- ACADIA Academy, Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, Cornville Regional Charter School, Fiddlehead School of Arts & Sciences, Harpswell Coastal Academy, Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, Maine Arts Academy, Maine Connections Academy and Maine Virtual Academy.