College Republicans host school-choice debate

Lecturer in Education Stacy Smith. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Lecturer in Education Stacy Smith. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Education experts on both sides of the school-choice issue debate the question in an event organized by the Bates College Republicans at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24, in the Muskie Archives, 70 Campus Ave. The panel discussion — titled School Choice: The Right Choice for Maine? — is open to the public at no charge.

“School choice” refers to an approach to funding K-12 education that would use public money to buy vouchers to cover tuition at private schools, thus broadening the choice of schools in a community. Advocates say that all parents, not just the well-to-do, should have a free choice of where and how their children are schooled. Critics say that vouchers could drain money away from existing public schools and, by supporting attendance at religious schools, weaken the separation between church and state.

The discussion will also examine charter schools, a model defined by the U.S. government as a “nonsectarian public school of choice that operates with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The ‘charter’ establishing each such school is a performance contract detailing the school’s mission, program,” etc.

Panelists at the Sept. 24 event will debate school choice and its implications for Maine in particular. Here is a list of participants:

  • Crystal Ward chairs the Board of Directors of the 25,000-member Maine Education Association. She heads the social studies department and teaches government at Lewiston High School.
  • Judith Jones is president of the Maine Association for Charter Schools and is a former professor of sociology at both American and George Washington universities in Washington, D.C.
  • Frank Heller is the coordinator of the Maine School Choice Coalition, whose membership is largely composed of private sectarian and non-sectarian schools. He is an outside peer reviewer for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation & Improvement, which has jurisdiction over federal school choice initiatives, implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act and charter schools.
  • Con Chapman, a lawyer and writer in Boston, founded the Coalition for Parental Choice in Education, an umbrella group for parents and public-policy organizations in Massachusetts. He has administered privately funded voucher programs in the Boston area and is a founder of the Roxbury Charter High School for Business.
  • Stacy Smith, assistant professor of education at Bates, will moderate the discussion. Smith researches educational policy, equity issues — particularly surrounding race and educational opportunities — and the relationship between schooling and civic engagement. She is the author of The Democratic Potential of Charter Schools (Peter Lang, 2001) and a number of articles on school choice.