Charter Schools

Are charter schools homeschools?

Can homeschools be charter schools? 

 

Kathi Kearny, M.Ed.

 

A homeschool charter school is kind of an oxymoron in Maine law. There can be no such a thing! In Maine, charter schools are public schools, run either by an organization or other entity, or by a school district. Charter schools are not homeschools, no matter where any instruction takes place. Charter schools are an entirely different public school entity. 

Maine has a variety of options for meeting the compulsory attendance requirement. The public school options include:

·        Attending a "public day school," which is your local brick-and-mortar public school in the local school district

·        Enrolling in a public charter school (either brick-and-mortar or for the first time this fall a virtual charter)

·        Enrolling in a magnet public school (Maine only has one, the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, Maine.)

·        There is also provision within the law for students to have an "alternative instruction program" that is jointly developed by the public school, the parents, and the school board. Those students are considered public school students, as well.

In all of these cases, there is no tuition paid by the parents (unless a student from one public school district wants to enroll in another public school district, and they can't get a "superintendent's agreement" to enroll, in which case they would pay tuition to the public school they want to attend if the public school will accept them as a tuition-paying student). 

Many parents opt for private education. All forms of private education come under the umbrella term in the law of "equivalent instruction," and there are quite a lot of options. Equivalent instruction options include:

·        Homeschooling by filing the notice of intent and meeting the requirements of the Maine homeschool law

·        Enrolling in an approved private school (approval by the Maine Department of Education requires quite a process including approval of curriculum, certified teachers, etc.)

·        Enrolling in a NEASC-accredited private school (not approved by the state but accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges -- this includes mostly, but not solely, boarding schools such as Gould Academy, Hebron Academy, etc.)

·        Enrolling in a "recognized for attendance purposes private school" (sometimes called a "RAPPS"), which has its own set of unique guidelines and came about because of a major court case back in the early 1980s

·        Being a full-time college student who has not graduated from high school yet and is under the age of 17 (This requires direct approval by the Maine Commissioner of Education, and isn't "homeschooling," per se.)

·        Equivalent instruction "in any other manner arranged for by the school board and approved by the Commissioner" (This is kind of a catch-all category for anything that doesn't fit the above options.) 

The "equivalent instruction" options are paid for by the parent, with one exception: About 25% of Maine towns have no high school of their own, and no agreement with another town to accept their high school students. These towns are called "tuitioning towns," and they will pay up to a certain amount of money (usually the state per-pupil subsidy plus a bit more) for their students to attend any public or non-sectarian private school that they wish. If the students are on an island without a high school and without regular ferry service in the winter months, then the town has to pay for boarding off island, as well.

Each "equivalent instruction" option is a separate legal entity, and has vastly different rules and regulations from the other "equivalent instruction" options. They are completely different legal situations.
 
In summary, since homeschools are equivalent instruction programs, and thus a form of private education, they cannot be charter schools. They are, however, an emerging option among the many as educational choice continues to expand in Maine.

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