BAR HARBOR — A bill passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor this month will save Mount Desert Island High School $24,000 next school year.
Sponsored by Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor), the bill requires the state to pay the entire cost for students to attend any of the state’s public charter schools, including the virtual Maine Connections Academy.
Prior to the bill’s enactment, Maine’s traditional public schools had to pay tuition for students living in their districts who chose to enroll in the academy. The local share of the tuition is about $8,000 a year.
MDI High is paying that amount for two area students for the current year. The high school budget approved for next year included $24,000 to cover the tuition for those students and for another student who was expected to enroll in the virtual charter school.
Hubbell said the purpose of his bill was to relieve local school districts of the “inequitable and unpredictable impact of charter school funding.”
“If the state is going to authorize charter schools, then the state as a whole needs to bear the liability for the cost of charter school operations,” Hubbell said at a hearing on the bill before the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.
Hubbell is a member of that committee. The committee’s Senate chairman, Sen. Brian Langley (R-Ellsworth), co-sponsored the bill.
Also speaking in favor of the bill at the committee hearing were representatives of the Maine Principal’s Association, the Maine School Management Association, the Maine Mayor’s Coalition and the Maine Association for Charter Schools. That association’s executive director, Roger Brainerd, told the committee that “We believe [the bill] will reduce the current tension between district schools and chartered schools, hopefully smoothing relationships and increasing opportunities for collaboration in the interest of all public school students.”
Speaking against Hubbell’s bill were officials of the Maine Charter School Commission and the Maine Education Association. The association, which represents teachers, said the bill would make “winners” of public schools in areas where charter schools are located and “losers” of most other school districts in the state.
Suzan Beaudoin, the Maine Department of Education’s director of school finance and operations, said the department supported the provision of Hubbell’s bill that alleviates the “unpredictable financial impact of public charter schools” on the state’s local school districts.
But she said the department could not support the portion of the bill that places a one-year moratorium on the Maine Charter School Commission’s approval of any new public charter schools.
“Any moratorium may result in limiting student opportunities for multiple pathways for learner achievement and expanded learning options,” she said.