Charter schools will offer educational freedom

July 5, 2011

The following article is from the Journal Tribune.

By Timothy Morris Special to the Journal Tribune Published: Tuesday, July 5, 2011 12:06 PM EDT

On Wednesday, Gov. Paul LePage signed LD 1553 into law, establishing a process to authorize the establishment of public charter schools in Maine. I think this is magnificent � finally there is a choice in public education. This law allows non-religious, non-profit organizations to set up charter schools here in Maine and even allows for online schools to be used by Maine students as well.

But what does this mean for the average student? This means that if you are a student and a charter school would fit your needs, the state may pay for your tuition to that new school. This law also allows for Maine students to attend online schools. Now students can get a quality education without leaving the comfort of their own home, so students who live in rural areas or on islands can now go to school at home and no longer need to take long rides to the nearest school. This law also may allow more students to attend vocational schools.

What does this mean for the current public schools in Maine? I think it�s going to mean that they have to become competitive. If these charter schools start popping up all over the place, the current public schools are going to be forced to compete with them. The new law allows current public schools to become �public charter schools,� which means that they remain as a public school for their district, but may admit other students.

What�s this going to cost taxpayers? The simple answer is: Nothing more than usual. Charter schools are allowed to charge 103 percent of the state approved cost of annual education, but are also allowed to seek donations and grants in order to create a superior education experience for their students. This will encourage public schools to convert to charter schools, which means that the number of purely public schools in Maine will most likely dwindle.

Charter schools may have the freedom to focus on specific areas and some may even specialize in special needs education. Some charter schools may also be able to lower student to teacher ratio, allowing for more individualized attention, or use different teaching techniques. These schools may also have a specific academic theme or approach, such as the Maine School of Science and Mathematics magnet high school in Limestone.

New charter schools could focus on vocational training, natural resources, the environment, farming, fishing, forestry, foreign language, culture, visual arts, preforming arts, science, mathematics, technology or online instruction. The possibilities are endless.

With this new law, I can foresee a bright future for the state of Maine, one where students are leaving high school with valuable skills that can work directly with the career field of their choice. Students can have an education tailored to their needs and desires, and we could have a whole new generation better prepared than their predecessors.

However, there are a few problems that we will have to face. I didn�t see anything in the law about transportation. How exactly are we supposed to get to these new public charter schools? Let�s also remember that if we send a student to a special needs school, they may not have the opportunity to take regular classes. With gas prices the way they are, it may not be practical for parents to drive their students to school.

Charter schools are going to allow choice; ideally we will have the opportunity to decide what we want to learn and how we want to learn it. I can foresee in my lifetime, students going to school online and never having to leave home. There may also be more vocational education opportunities. However, like anything there are still potential problems, such as online students failing to learn interpersonal skills, transportation and implementation of the law.

� Timothy Morris is a student at Thornton Academy who is active with Thornton Academy television station and will be writing this column for the Journal Tribune through the summer.

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