Maine is one of 10 states in the nation that does not permit the creation of public charter schools.

“There’s a huge opposition because it changes the status quo,” said Judith Jones, chairperson of the board of the Maine Association for Charter Schools.

Jones and other charter-school supporters gathered Monday, Feb. 7, in the Statehouse Hall of Flags to show their enthusiasm for bringing charter schools to Maine.

Backers of charter schools are more optimistic than ever this year because Gov. Paul LePage supports charter schools and Republicans control both houses of the Maine Legislature. A bill has been filed, sponsored by Sen. Garrett Nason, R-Lisbon, to permit the formation of charter schools in Maine.

No new state money will be needed to pay for charter schools, according to Jones. Students who attend charter schools would take with them the amount of money the state pays local school districts for each student and local districts would lose that amount of money along with each student.

Jones said a $500,000 federal grant is available for every charter school for planning and strategy over the first three years of the school’s existence.

“I don’t see any reason to have them,” said Chris Galgay, president of the Maine Education Association. “We’re struggling to keep the schools that we have. They’re using public dollars to fund private schools. There’s no oversight from the taxpayer, but it’s going to be their dollars that are going to be keeping these schools open.”

According to Jones’ group, charter schools are needed to address the problem of dropouts in Maine.

“It’s a public school run on a contract basis that’s open to students, parents and teachers on a choice basis. People want to be there. They can choose a theme. They often are focused on a grade level. They could be focused on vocational education. There is flexibility in exchange for learning results,” Jones said of charter schools. “If the kid doesn’t like it, they can leave and their money leaves with them.”

According to material published by Jones’ group: “A ‘charter’ is a contract. In exchange for flexibility in how a charter school is organized and operated, each charter school contracts to achieve specific results and is legally responsible for meeting its goals.”

According to Jones’ group, charter schools are public schools open to all students, free to all students with no tuition, independent in program and operations, and accountable by contract for student learning and financial responsibility.

Kristina Lord-Linde, founder of the Public Academy for Performing Arts in Albuquerque, N.M., who now lives in Maine, said, “You take every child who wants to come. The fear that the schools will take only the best and the brightest is nonsense. If more kids want to come than you can handle, then you have a lottery.”

Lord-Linde said she would like to start three academies for performing arts in Maine — in Portland, Waterville and Bangor. The academies would enroll students in grades 6-12.

“All our teachers are certified,” said Lord-Linde, “although they’re balanced by professionals like a Russian ballet master who is not certified.”

“By having the more individualized approach, you can address the ‘bright but bored’ kids,” Jones said. “These schools create a positive learning environment. The teachers and staff have to work as a team to meet the needs of these kids. This is a big challenge, particularly in the urban areas.”

Emily Sapienza and Joseph Hufnagel, staff members of The Community School, a private school in Camden, said they support creation of charter schools.

“We’re a private alternative high school,” said Hufnagel. “We’ve been serving at-risk youth for 37 years. Having a more stable revenue source would be great for us. Our students have either dropped out or are on the verge of dropping out. They’re great kids.”

The first charter school was established in 1992 in Minnesota. There are currently about 5,000 charter schools serving 1.6 million students nationwide in 40 states.

For more information on charter schools, go to mainecharterschools.org.