Frustrated with remote learning? Maine students have other educational options

Every January, National School Choice Week offers resources to parents looking into other educational options; many of which offer public funding.

While many parents assume that public school in their town is the only affordable option for K-12 education; Maine actually has quite a few options. Families can choose from public charter schools; public magnet schools; private schools; online academies; homeschooling; and learning pods. 

Andrew Campanello is the President of National School Choice Week; which walks families through options and resources available with those options; helping families make informed decisions about education. Here’s a list of options in Maine, compiled by the National School Choice Week Team:

Maine Traditional Public Schools

Most children in Maine attend traditional public schools. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by taxpayers like you. Did you know that Maine spends an average of $16,006 per public school student each year? 

Maine has restricted open enrollment for public school. Open enrollment is an important form of public school choice; it refers to whether you can send your child to a public school other than the one you are assigned to. In Maine, the state allows districts to set their own open enrollment policies. So, Maine parents should check with their district if they would like to transfer their child to a different public school. If the reason for a family participating in open enrollment in another district is because their district does not offer a school, their district provides transportation. In other situations, the parents are responsible for transportation.

Find out more about public schools in your state: Maine’s Department of Education.

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that have extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. Maine currently has seven brick-and-mortar charter schools that parents can choose from, as well as two online charter schools. Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves, whether that be providing a language immersion program or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system usually determines admittance. 

Under Maine law, only 10 charter schools can be authorized in the first 10 years (2011-2021) of charter schools being allowed in the state. Maine’s 10th charter school, The Ecology Learning Center, is scheduled to open Fall 2020. For more information on charter schools in your state, check out the Maine Association for Charter Schools

Magnet schools are free public schools that allow kids to focus on specific themes, like science or the performing arts. There are currently two magnet schools in Maine. The Maine School of Science and Mathematics was recently ranked the second-best public high school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The state also has a public magnet school geared toward studying marine science, technology, transportation, and engineering: The Maine Ocean School. If you live near one of Maine’s magnet schools, your child may be able to attend the public magnet school rather than their public neighborhood school. 

Families in Maine can also consider private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools may offer a unique curriculum, smaller class sizes, or a faith-based tradition. Maine’s private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs. 

There are more than 100 private schools across the state. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $21,697 per year, but keep in mind that schools often are more affordable at the elementary level than high school.

Maine has the nation’s second oldest school choice program, enacted in 1873. Through Maine’s Town Tuitioning Program, students who live in town without a public school can receive funding to attend private schools in other communities. In other cases, families can always inquire into whether private scholarships are available.

Learn more at the Maine Catholic School Directory and Private School Review: Maine.

Online learning offers a uniquely flexible learning environment that meets a variety of family needs. Maybe your child wants to accelerate learning or maybe they need a quieter environment in which to focus. Either way, you may be interested in giving virtual school a try. Maine students can attend free, full-time online school programs through the online public charter schools Maine Connections Academy or Maine Virtual Academy

Which online options still have seats available and in what grades for 2020-2021?

As of December 2020, Maine Connections Academy has seats available for grades 7-12 and accepts mid-year transfer students. Maine Virtual Academy is no longer accepting applications for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Does the school provide technology and wifi?

At Maine Connections Academy, students may request one laptop per household. At Maine Virtual Academy, computers and printers can be requested. 

RELATED: What online classrooms look like when they’re designed to be virtual

Another option for Maine families is homeschooling, the process of parents educating students at home. Families in all 50 states can homeschoool!

In Maine, notice of your intent to homeschool is required within 10 days of starting and annually by September 1. It is recommended that you formally withdraw from your current school so your student is not marked truant. In the case that you decide to return to public school in the middle of the school year, grade level placement is a decision that the local school makes; however, you can appeal this decision.

If you are looking for extra customization and flexibility for your child’s education and think homeschooling could fit the bill, find out more about Maine’s homeschooling rules. You may also wish to check out the Maine Department of Education’s home instruction page.

Micro-schools, pods, pandemic pods, and learning pods all refer to the same concept: students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize.  Pods themselves can take a variety of legal forms, but in general they can be separated into two categories: self-directed pod (homeschool, homeschool collaborative, or micro-school) and learning support pod. It’s important to understand what kind of pod you are signing up for and the requirements that go along with it.  Learn more about learning pods.

If your learning pod or micro-school is choosing its own curriculum and each family is directing their own children’s schooling, it likely qualifies as a homeschool in Maine. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA here. Note that homeschool students in Maine may still be eligible to participate in classes, sports, or activities at local public schools.

Maine’s Office of Child and Family Services has issued a statement that “Families who elect to provide home instruction completely themselves or through private arrangements with another adult—without involvement in their local school administrative unit (SAU)—need to formally submit a notice of intent to provide home instruction to the local superintendent and the Maine Department of Education (DOE).”

If your learning pod contains more than two families and will have teachers leading unique classes just for your school, it may qualify as a private school. You can read more about what Maine classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.

If your child is going to be enrolled in remote learning through your local public school and supervised by an adult in your learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school. Keep in mind that you have multiple online learning options, including two free, full-time online schools that are available to students statewide. 

Learning support pods for students formally enrolled in a school may require licenses in Maine if instruction is compensated and there are more than three students in addition to any children living in the home. 

RELATED: At home ‘learning pods’ cause concerns over licensing

National School Choice Week 2021 is taking place January 24-30th, including 130 virtual events and activities around the state. Click here to learn more

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