Public Charter Schools: Centers for the Kind of Educational Innovation that Maine Needs

Read the full report | Public charter schools are public schools that, by virtue of their unique system of governance, have more control over their own budget, staff and curriculum, and are free from many existing public school regulations. In a recent speech on education policy, President Barack Obama characterized public charter schools as centers for educational innovation, and called on states to lift any caps they have on the number of public charter schools that may be authorized. Such caps on public charter schools, Obama said, are “not good for our children, our economy, or our country.” 

Maine is one of the few states in the nation that has an absolute cap on public charter schools—it outlaws them entirely. As a result, Maine is missing out on the kind of educational innovation President Obama described in his speech. 

The debate over public charter schools typically revolves around the question of whether public charter schools outperform conventional public schools. Because public charter schools vary in quality and outcomes, however, just as conventional public schools do, such debates are not particularly useful to discussions of charter school policy. The fact is that just like conventional public schools, there are good public charter schools and bad public charter schools. 

If that is the case, why bother creating public charter schools? President Obama hit on the reason exactly, which is that public charter schools, because they are governed in a unique way, tend to adopt innovative educational approaches more readily than conventional public schools. This is not simply President Obama’s opinion, it is a conclusion well supported by research. 

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