AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - As part of National School Choice Week, Maine charter schools were celebrated at the State House on Monday.
Publicly funded charter schools became allowed in Maine under the LePage administration in 2011 to give children an alternative option to the traditional public school system.
"They're thriving in schools that meet the needs of the student and if the public schools can't do that then they ought to have the competition that we're providing. And they ought to see you thrive because they're not getting it done. And I don't mind saying that because they aren't getting it done," said Governor LePage.
LePage says it was a hard battle getting charter schools in the state as many feared it would only be for the elite and wealthy. But years after the system was created, LePage says 40% of charter school students qualify for free or reduced lunch and that this educational model is benefiting thousands of children.
"Over 2200 students are in the charter school system. 20% are children with special needs, where the state average is about 17 (%)," said LePage.
Charter schools are tuition free and have no religious affiliation. Students who choose to attend are funded by dollars that follow them from their public school system.
"So if a charter school opens it Maine, it's giving flexibility in how it operates but it's also held very accountable for its contract both academically but also financially. It has to prove that its financial model works," said Roger Brainerd, Executive Director of the Maine Association for Charter Schools.
There are seven brick and mortar charter schools in Maine and two virtual online programs that now reach into every corner of the state.
Clarissa Hemphill is a senior at the Maine Virtual Academy and lives in Fort Fairfield.
"Some of the benefits are definitely the variety of class options. A number of the classes that I've taken I wouldn't have been able to have taken at public school," said Hemphill, a senior.
Each school typically has a theme or broad area of focus such as science or the arts.
Chase Stewart's passion for music encouraged him to leave Marranacook Community High School last year to attend Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney.
"At my old school I was always trying to incorporate the arts into my life but that was actually influencing my academics in a bad way because I was spending more time on that. But now I can put a lot more effort into my arts and actually get good things out of it for school," said Stewart, a junior.
Maine charter schools currently have waitlists for students, but those who apply can easily transfer class credits from the public school system to allow for a seamless transition.