Maine School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: January 22, 2023

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

Education is a big decision; after all, it has a huge impact on your child’s future. Fortunately, Maine families have access to several K-12 options. Understanding and navigating these options can help you find a school where your child’s personality and talents are nurtured. This post will explain the six types of schools available in Maine, as well as provide additional education resources. 

In Maine, families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, homeschooling, and learning pods.

Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in Maine at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.

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Traditional public schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public charter schools do not charge tuition. They are usually managed by nonprofit organizations and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public magnet schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and focus on themes, such as math, science, technology, and the arts.
Private schools charge tuition, but scholarships are often available via state programs or by individual schools. Private schools are privately managed and can be faith-based or secular.

      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 $14,614 per public school student each year? You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.

      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. For instance, Portland Public Schools District only allows families to choose a school “out of neighborhood” in a few circumstances, such as when there has been documented harassment at the assigned school. 

      If the reason for a family participating in open enrollment in another district is because their assigned district does not offer a school for their grade level, their district provides transportation. In other situations, the parents are responsible for transportation.

      Find out more about public schools in your state at the Maine Department of Education.

      Maine Charter Schools

      You can also choose charters! Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that have extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. 

      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 are currently able to operate in the state due to a charter school cap. Maine’s 10th charter school, The Ecology Learning Center, opened in fall 2019. For more information on charter schools in your state, check out the Maine Charter School Commission.

      Maine Magnet 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. 

      Maine Private Schools

      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 about 150 private schools across the state of Maine. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $15,231 for elementary schools and $30,795 for high schools.

      Maine has the nation’s second oldest school choice program, enacted in 1873. Through Maine’s Town Tuitioning Program, students who live in towns without a public school can receive funding to attend private schools in other communities. You can find an interactive map of Maine’s town tuition choices at the Maine Policy Institute. Families can also inquire into whether private scholarships are available. 

      As of June 2022, the Supreme Court ruled in Carson v. Makin that Maine’s town tuitioning program cannot exclude religious private schools from the options parents could choose through the program. 

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

      Maine Online Learning

      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 one of two online public charter schools: Maine Connections Academy or Maine Virtual Academy. Both schools have enrollment caps.

      Additionally, Portland Public Schools has a Virtual Scholar program offering online and blended options. 

      For highschoolers, there are a few more online options. The University of Maine at Fort Kent offers Rural U, a free, part-time early college program open to high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors, including homeschool students. The University also runs a program allowing public school students statewide to take online Advanced Placement classes for free. Finally, Maine students in grades 11-12 can take early college courses for free through University of Maine’s Academ-e.

      To read more about online learning in Maine, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.

      Maine Homeschooling

      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, grade level placement is a decision that the local school makes; however, you can appeal this decision if necessary. 

      The state requires homeschooling parents to teach specific subjects (like math, English, and science), and also requires some level of assessment of homeschooled students. Note that your homeschooled student might still be eligible to participate in sports or activities at your local public school.

      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 at the Home School Legal Defense Association. You may also wish to check out the Maine Department of Education’s home instruction page.

      Maine Learning Pods

      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.

      Self-Directed 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.

      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 parents or other 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.

      Learning Support Pods:

      If your child is enrolled in an existing online school or local public, charter, or private school, and uses that school’s curriculum under the supervision of an adult in a learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school. 

      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. 

      Students celebrate school choice in Maine

      Education Resources for Maine Parents 

      For additional information about school choices in Maine, visit these resources: 

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