Does the new Portland charter school deserve Justin Alfond’s condemnation?

Big Bangor Daily News story: “Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, attacked a new charter school in his district Friday for aligning itself with what he called one of the most extreme political organizations in Maine.” Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, a charter school opening this fall, was criticized by Alfond for hosting a luncheon next week that will be cosponsored by the avowedly conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center. For Alfond and no doubt other leading state Democrats, this is a cardinal sin that mixes public education with a political ideology that Alfond despises. To make matters worse, the luncheon takes place–not by accident– on “Milton Friedman Legacy Day,” an annual event that honors the late Nobel Prize winner in Economics who advocated freedom of choice in, among many other areas, public school enrollment.

As a liberal Democrat, I usually disagree with most ideological and policy positions of the Maine Heritage Policy Center. However, it remains to be seen how this one event might undermine the new charter school that will also draw students from outside of Portland, given Alfond’s insistence that his Senate district is ideologically at loggerheads with Maine Heritage.

Senator Alfond claims to have investigated much more about Baxter Academy. I’d love to know if decisions being made about  the Academy’s curriculum, about which faculty and staff to hire,  and about which educational values  to promote are being compromised by this initial conservative embrace.

As for the ideal of political neutrality that Senator Alfond appears to seek, let us not forget that the leading organization of Maine’s public school teachers, the Maine Education Association, has passionately opposed most, perhaps all, of Governor LePage’s K-12 education initiatives–not least, funding charter schools–and commonly endorses Democratic candidates for his office and for the State House and Senate.

As a University of Maine faculty member, I belong to the university division of MEA and scrutinize its newsletters and online publications and announcements. Agree though I usually do with MEA’s positions on K-12 and higher education alike, I can appreciate how more conservative educators at all levels would find Senator Alfond’s aversion to “extremism” utterly self-serving.

Finally, if the Good Senator wants to look into relentless hostility toward public higher education in Maine, let him check out the pillars of the Maine Democratic Party–several hired by the outgoing Baldacci Administration, two without searches–atop Epic Sports in downtown Bangor. Nothing that the Maine Heritage Policy Center has accomplished to date could compare with what these “progressive” folks have done.

 

 

 

“Every year, the Maine Heritage Policy Center celebrates the legacy of Dr. Milton Friedman as a strong proponent of school choice and economic freedom,” said Clark on Friday. “Knowing that a new viable option is available for students in the local school system, we realized that people would probably be curious to learn a little more about charter schools in Maine.