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 school choice 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 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 learning, homeschooling, and microschooling and mix-and-match learning.
Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in Maine at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
- Traditional Public Schools
- Public Charter Schools
- Public Magnet Schools
- Private Schools
- Online Schools
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 $17,671 per public school student each year? You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
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. You can also learn more about Maine open enrollment at “Public Schools Without Boundaries: A 50 State Ranking.”
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. As of 2023, more than 2,700 students in Maine attend charters.
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 2020. However, one of Maine’s charter schools, Harpswell Coastal Academy, just closed at the end of the 2022-2023 school year, creating an opportunity for a new charter to open. 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 is currently at least one operating magnet school 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.
In previous years, the state also had a public magnet school geared toward studying marine science, technology, transportation, and engineering: The Maine Ocean School. However, as of 2022, the Maine Ocean School is transitioning into an educational program-based model rather than a full-time magnet school. If you live near Maine’s magnet school, your child may be able to attend it 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.
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.
In 2022, the Supreme Court ruled in Carson v. Makin that Maine’s town tuitioning program cannot exclude religious private schools from the options parents can choose through the program. However, currently only one religious school is approved to participate.
Families can also inquire into whether private scholarships are available, such as through the Maine Children’s Scholarship Fund.
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.
Another option for Maine families is homeschooling, the process of parents educating students at home. Families in all 50 states can homeschool! As of 2022, about 5.6% of all Maine K-12 students choose homeschooling.
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 Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning
Today, some Maine families are mixing and matching school options to come up with new ways to personalize education. Microschools are one of these ways. A microschool refers to students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Microschools can take a variety of shapes and legal forms, from homeschoolers coming together at an enrichment center to a private school committed to small classrooms. What microschools share in common is a commitment to small-group learning and close-knit relationships, along with an emphasis on children as individual learners.
Here are just a couple of real examples of microschools and related resources in Maine:
With small group classes and multi-age learning, Roots Academy in Cape Elizabeth offers a “place-based, child-led, play-inspired approach” to education.
The Village Nest Cooperative in Eliot offers a full-time K-3 forestry microschool.
Note that learning support groups 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.
Remember, microschooling is more a mentality than a specific legal distinction in most cases. Often, a family participates in a microschool while legally homeschooling, or being enrolled in a private or online school.
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