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Theory into Practice: Maine’s Charter Schools

On Thursday, Oct. 10, the Harward Center hosted a discussion entitled Navigating the Facts About Maine’s Charter Schools. This event was the first in the Harward Center’s Theory into Practice series. The series aims to inform the Bates community how theories that are studied in the classroom translate into everyday life.

Bob Kautz and Shelley Reed of the Maine Charter School Commission came to discuss the details of charters and answer questions about the charter school system. Kautz serves as the executive director of the program and Reed as one of the commissioners.

Both speakers have extensive background in the fields of education. Kautz served as a superintendent for Maine schools for about 30 years, and Reed was a teacher in the Lewiston-Auburn area for many years.

Kautz began the presentation by explaining the public charter school system. In 2011, Maine authorized the creation of charter schools, making it the 41st state to do so. Admission to the schools is determined on a blind-lottery system. Students who apply are selected at random to attend. If the number of students who apply is below the enrollment cap, every student will be admitted.

Charter schools, like public schools, receive funding from the state government. Kautz discussed how funding for charter schools is on a per-child basis. Consequently, state statistics show that of the ten schools that spend the least on education, charter schools tend to hold eight or so slots.

Kautz noted the benefits of the charter school system, remarking that “Charter schools have the opportunity to give a quality education, generally at an amount less than most other school districts in the state.

Despite these clear benefits, charter schools often struggle to stay afloat. Fundraising and the dedication of charter school staff and faculty are crucial to the success of a school. Charter schools are non-profit organizations, which poses problems with a lot of educators in the state of Maine.

However, Kautz said, “If you’ve ever dealt with a non-profit, they seem to be able to operate quite effectively and efficiently. What they have are people who want to be with that school, believe in the philosophy, the mission, the vision of that school.”

Charter schools must adhere to all federal laws, including health and safety laws, that apply to public schools. They are also held to the same academic standards as public schools. One of the main differences between the two is that charter schools tend to accommodate a different type of student population.

Reed described this difference, noting that “Charter schools create learning environments that sometimes a traditional school can’t do. The students that really love to be outdoors get hands-on agricultural or marine sciences.”

She noted that many of the students in charter schools come from traditional school systems where they don’t fit in. They are often considered social outcasts or struggle to learn in the same ways that their peers do. At charter schools, these students tend to find a group of people who think and learn like they do.

Reed maintained that charter schools have the potential to change the educational futures of students. He contended that students who had previously refused to attend class would show up each day, excited to learn.

Reed encouraged the Bates community to learn about Maine’s charter schools and even to visit them. She believes it is important to see first-hand how charter schools provide a learning environment that is conducive to each child.

The next Theory into Practice gathering will take place on the 12th of November. Leigh Saufley, the Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, will visit Bates to speak about access to justice in an ever-changing world. Bates Students, faculty and staff, and members of the community are encouraged to attend.

Fiona Cohen
Staff Writer

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