Maine’s law allows multiple authorizers via districts and a statewide authorizer, has strong quality-control components, provides operational autonomy to public charter schools, and provides equitable operational funding to charter schools. The three major weaknesses of the law include a cap of 10 charter schools, a relatively small number of provisions for supporting charter-school facilities’ needs, and inadequate accountability for full-time virtual charter schools.
Are there caps on the growth of charter schools in this state?
Maine law provides that there can be no more than 10 schools approved by the State Charter Schools Commission and districts. There are currently 10 charter schools that have been approved by the State Charter Schools Commission.Maine law also contains temporary enrollment caps in that a charter school cannot enroll more than 5% to 10% (depending on the size of the school administrative unit) of a school administrative unit’s students per grade level in each of the first three years that a school is open.
Maine law provides that the total enrollment at all virtual public charter schools authorized by the State Charter Schools Commission may not exceed 1,000 students.
Are a variety of charter schools allowed?
Maine law allows new start-ups and public school conversions.
Are non-district authorizers available to which charter applicants may directly apply?
Maine law provides that any local school board or a collaborative of local school boards may become an authorizer by issuing a request for proposals. In addition, the law allows charter school applicants to apply directly to the State Charter Schools Commission. The law provides that only the Commission can approve virtual schools.
Is an authorizer and overall program accountability system required?
Maine law requires that local school boards interested in authorizing must issue a request for proposal.
Maine law requires authorizers to submit an annual report to the state commissioner of education and the legislature detailing their strategic vision for chartering and progress toward that vision, the performance of all of their charter schools, the status of their charter school portfolio, the oversight and services that they provide to their charter schools, and the total amount of funds collected from each public charter school the authorizer authorized and the costs incurred by the authorizer to oversee each public charter school.
The law gives the state department of education the right to investigate and, as appropriate, institute sanctions in response to authorizer performance or legal compliance. In addition to any other sanction instituted, the law allows the state commissioner of education to suspend a deficient authorizer’s authority to issue new charters or renew existing charters until the commissioner is satisfied that the deficiencies have been corrected.
Statute requires that the state department of education submit a comprehensive report to the governor, legislature, and public four and eight years after charter schools have been in operation.
Is there adequate authorizer funding?
Maine law allows authorizers to charge up to 3% of the per pupil allocations sent to the schools they authorize to cover the costs for an authorizer to oversee its public charter schools. Statute requires authorizers to report to the state commissioner of education the total amount of funds collected from each public charter school the authorizer authorized and the costs incurred by the authorizer to oversee each public charter school.
Statute provides that charter schools may not be required to purchase services from its authorizer, but may choose to do so. The law provides that schools and authorizers must execute an annual service contract, separate from the charter contract, stating the terms of the services.
Transparent Charter Application, Review, and Decisionmaking Processes
Are there transparent charter application, review, and decisionmaking processes?
Maine law details the core elements required in the charter application and offers additional pieces for conversion schools and those proposing to use educational service providers.
Maine law requires authorizers to issue a request for proposals that includes application requirements and approval criteria.
Maine law requires authorizers to thoroughly evaluate each application including an in-person interview and a public meeting.
Maine law provides that all charter approval or denial decisions must made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.
Are performance-based charter contracts required?
Maine law defines the charter contract as a performance-based contract for a fixed term between a charter school and an authorizer that describes performance expectations, provides operational responsibilities, and outlines the autonomy and accountability for each party for the contract.
Statute requires that the charter contract define academic and operational performance expectations by which a school will be judged based on a performance framework.
Statute provides that the initial charter term must be five years.
Comprehensive Charter Public School Monitoring and Data Collection Processes
Are there comprehensive charter school monitoring and data collection processes?
While Maine law does not require authorizers to publicly issue annual school performance reports, it does explicitly require authorizers to collect, analyze, and report all outcome and financial data in accordance with the performance framework outlined in each school’s contract. In practice, the state commission issues annual reports for each charter schools and requires full-time virtual charter schools to have third party annual reports completed and made public after the first year of operation.
The law requires charter schools to annually engage an external auditor, and submit the audits to their authorizer.
Statute also provides authorizers with clear authority to monitor the performance and compliance of their charter schools.
The law provides that authorizers must provide written notice to their schools of perceived problems and provide reasonable opportunity for the school to remedy the problems.
Are there clear processes for renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions?
Maine law provides that during the fourth year of a charter school’s operation, the authorizer must issue a public charter school performance report. If the charter contract is expiring the next year, the law also requires the authorizer to offer charter renewal application guidance to the school. The law requires the performance report to include data on performance to date and notice of any weaknesses or concern that may jeopardize renewal. The law requires that schools be given the opportunity to respond and submit any corrections or clarifications and to submit additional evidence. In addition, the law requires such schools to officially apply for renewal by no later than September of their fifth year of operation.
The law includes clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation. It also requires authorizers to make their renewal decisions based on evidence of the school’s performance over the term of the charter.
Maine law provides that an authorizer may renew a charter for successive terms of five years. It also provides that an authorizer may issue a renewal for 15 years with public performance reports every five years.
The law requires authorizers to provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or non-renewal, including reasons, and reasonable time to respond.
Maine law requires renewal decisions to occur via a resolution of an authorizer’s governing body, with authorizers stating reasons for non-renewals and revocations in writing.
Statute includes school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.
Is there transparency regarding educational service providers?
Maine statute allows charter school governing boards for virtual charter schools to enter into contracts with educational service providers for education design, implementation, or comprehensive management of the virtual public charter school program. However, it only allows charter school governing boards for brick and mortar charter schools to enter into contracts with educational service providers for a limited scope of education or management services.
Maine law requires the charter application to contain details regarding past performance data of any service provider and significant details regarding the terms of the proposed contract with the service provider.
The law also requires the application to contain details about any potential conflict of interests between the charter school governing board and the service provider and a statement of assurance that the two entities are legally and operationally independent of each other.
Maine rules require a public charter school’s governing board, leaders, and managers to be legally and operationally independent from any education service provider. In determining whether boards, leaders, and managers are independent of the service provider, the rules require an authorizer to consider all factors, including but not limited to: whether the charter school’s governing board is selected by, or includes members who are employees of, the education service provider; whether the charter school has an independent attorney, accountant, and audit firm that works for the charter school and not the education service provider; whether the contract between the charter school and the education service provider was negotiated at “arms length,” clearly describes each party’s rights and responsibilities, and specifies reasonable and feasible terms under which either party may terminate the contract; whether the fee to be paid by the charter school to the education service provider is reasonable for the type of services provided; and whether any other agreements (e.g., loans or leases between the charter school and the education service provider) are fair and reasonable, documented appropriately, align with market rates, and include terms that will not change if the contract is terminated.
The law provides that a charter school must ensure that the persons who operate the virtual public charter school on a day-to-day basis comply with and carry out all applicable requirements, statutes, regulations, rules and policies of the school.
Fiscally and Legally Autonomous Schools with Independent Charter Public School Boards
Are the schools fiscally and legally autonomous with independent charter school boards?
Maine law states that all charter schools are to be governed by a board that is independent of a school administrative unit and has autonomy over key decisions including finance, personnel, scheduling, curriculum, and instruction.
Are there clear student enrollment and lottery procedures?
Maine law provides that charter schools are open to any state resident as well as to residents outside of the state if space is available. According to the law, a public charter school may not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, income level, disabling condition, proficiency in the English language or academic or athletic ability, except that nothing in the law may be construed to limit the formation of a public charter school that is dedicated to focusing education services on at-risk pupils, students with disabilities, and students who pose such severe disciplinary problems that they warrant a specific education program.
The law requires that enrollment preferences must be provided to previously enrolled students within conversions, prior year students within chartered schools, and siblings of students enrolled at a charter school. The law allows schools to give preferences to the children of charter school founders, board members, and full-time staff, not exceeding 10% of the school’s total student population.
Maine law provides that if capacity is insufficient to enroll all students who wish to attend the school, the public charter school must select students through a random selection process.
Automatic Exemptions from Many State and District Laws and Regulations
Is there automatic exemption from many state and district laws and regulations?
Maine law provides that charter schools are automatically exempt from all statutes and rules other than those stated in the charter school law.
Maine law provides that teachers must comply with federal regulations regarding teacher qualifications and that full-time teachers must either hold an appropriate teaching certificate or become certified within three years except for those with an advanced degree, professional certification, or unique expertise or experience in the curricular area in which they teach.
Is there an automatic collective bargaining exemption?
Maine requires that public school teachers collectively bargain. In Maine, six topics must be bargained: wages, insurance or fringe benefits, hours, length of preparation periods, terms and conditions of employment, and grievance procedures. Pensions and retirement benefits and leave may be bargained. Two topics are expressly excluded from bargaining: length of the school year and class load or size. Maine law provides that teachers in new start-up public charter schools have the right to bargain collectively, but it must be separate from other bargaining units, such as the district bargaining unit. The law also provides that these teachers cannot be required to be members of any existing agreement. Maine law states that teachers in conversion public charter schools have a right to retain the benefits as stated in applicable collective bargaining agreements, or they may vote to be represented in alternative ways.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision, the state permitted unions to charge mandatory agency fees to members of a collective bargaining unit who are not members of the union. The Supreme Court decision renders that state law unconstitutional, and no reactive legislation has been enacted.
State labor law sets the guidelines by which exclusive representatives are selected. Employers may directly certify an exclusive representative upon a petition showing that the majority of employees support the certification of the labor organization. An incumbent representative can be decertified by petition of 30 percent of the bargaining unit. Employers or employees may also request an election process from the Maine Labor Relations Board. If such an election occurs, the ballot must include any organization with at least 10 percent support from employees in the unit as well as an option for no representation. The election is decided by a majority vote, and if no entity receives a majority, a runoff election is held. A new election cannot be held within a year, and no certification can be held unless it is within the 60 to 90 day window before the active collective bargaining agreement expires.
Multischool Charter Contracts and/or Multicharter Contract Boards Allowed
Are multischool charter contracts and/or multicharter contract boards allowed?
Statute allows both multi-school contracts and multi-charter contract boards. It also makes clear that any charter school that contains multiple campuses operating under a single charter contract or overseen by a single governing board must report the performance of each campus and hold them independently accountable for its performance.
Extracurricular and Interscholastic Activities Eligibility and Access
Is there eligibility and access to extracurricular and interscholastic activities?
The law states that charter students have the right to participate in extracurricular and interscholastic activities not offered by their school to the same extent and subject to the same requirements as non-charter public school students. The law provides that non-charter schools may require such students to pay a portion of the cost of providing those activities.
Is there clear identification of special education responsibilities?
If a local school board approves a charter school, the school district is the LEA for the school and has responsibility for special education services. If the State Charter Schools Commission approves a charter school, the charter school is the LEA and responsible for special education.
For each enrolled special education pupil, statute provides that a public charter school must receive the average additional allocation calculated by the state department of education for its special education students. Statute also provides that the department shall pay directly to the public charter school any federal or state aid attributable to a student with a disability attending the public charter school in proportion to the level of services for the student with a disability that the public charter school provides directly or indirectly.
Statute indicates that the state department of education must pay to a public charter school any additional allocation assigned to the school because of a high-cost in-district placement in accordance with state law in the year in which the allocation is assigned as an adjustment to the public charter school's state contribution. It also provides that the department shall pay to the public charter school any additional allocation assigned to the school administrative unit because of a high-cost out-of-district special education placement in accordance with state law in the year in which the allocation is assigned.
Equitable Operational Funding and Equal Access to All State and Federal Categorical Funding
Is there equitable operational funding and equal access to all state and federal categorical funding?
Maine law includes many of the model law’s provisions for equitable operational and categorical funding, but there is no evidence of the amount of funds charters receive versus districts.
Maine law provides that state allocation funds follow each student to the public charter school attended by the student, but allows districts to retain up to 1% of the per-pupil allocation for administrative costs associated with the transfer of funds.
For transportation expenses, the law provides that the transportation operating allocation must be the statewide per-pupil essential programs and services transportation operating allocation multiplied by pupil counts multiplied by the percentage established by the commission for the public charter school but not to exceed 100%.
Is there equitable access to capital funding and facilities?
Maine law provides that charter schools have right of first refusal to purchase or lease any school facilities or property and that the price cannot exceed the fair market value of the property. The law provides that a public charter school may negotiate and contract with a school administrative unit, the governing body of a state college or university or public community college or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit private entity for the use of a school building.
According to the law, a library, community service, museum, performing arts, theater, cinema, church, community college, college and university facilities may provide space to public charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations.
It also provides that a public charter school may purchase or lease at or below fair market value part or all of any surplus or unused state-owned facility or property located in the State. The state agency in control of the facility may not require purchase or lease payments that exceed the fair market value of the property.
According to the law, the same zoning rules that apply to other noncharter public schools apply to public charter schools.
The law provides that a facility, or portion thereof, used to house a public charter school is exempt from property taxes.
Is there access to relevant employee retirement systems?
The law provides that charter schools may establish a retirement plan or may choose to set up a plan with the state retirement system.
Full-Time Virtual Charter School Provisions (if such schools allowed by state)
Are there provisions for full-time virtual charter schools?
The law provides that only the State Charter Schools Commission can approve virtual schools.Maine law provides that the total enrollment at all virtual public charter schools authorized by the State Charter Schools Commission may not exceed 1,000 students.
According to the law, the charter contract of a virtual public charter school must require the governing board to:
* Provide each student enrolled in the virtual public charter school with online courses that meet or exceed state standards and all instructional materials required for the student's participation in the school;
* Ensure that the persons who operate the virtual public charter school on a day-to-day basis comply with and carry out all applicable requirements, statutes, regulations, rules and policies of the school;
* Ensure that a parent of each student verifies the number of hours of educational activities completed by the student each school year; and
* Adopt a plan by which the governing board provides:
• Frequent, ongoing monitoring to ensure and verify that each student is participating in the virtual public charter school, including synchronous contact between teachers and students and between teachers and parents to ensure and verify student participation and learning;
• Regular instructional opportunities in real time that are directly related to the virtual public charter school's curricular objectives, including, but not limited to, meetings with teachers and educational field trips and outings;
• Verification of ongoing student attendance in the virtual public charter school;
• Verification of ongoing student progress and performance in each course as documented by ongoing assessments and examples of student course work; and
• Administration to all students in a proctored setting of all applicable assessments as required by the State.