Tuesday December 21, 2010 | 08:00 AM

One needed to notice nothing else but the mood last Thursday to pick up on the fact that something fundamental has changed about Maine's political environment as it relates to education.

The organizers of the Maine Association for Charter Schools' "Getting Ready for Public Charter Schools in Maine" forum were glowing Thursday morning about a report that Gov.-elect Paul LePage planned to hire an education commissioner who supports charter schools and school choice.

The discussion about charter schools treated the independently run schools almost as if they were an inevitability.

It was a marked shift from the organization's comparable event a year ago, when the specter of Race to the Top hung over Maine's head, but there was only one avenue left for allowing charter schools in Maine: legislation from Gov. John Baldacci that never materialized.

As I noted in my coverage of the event, charter school advocates will face familiar opponents when charter school legislation makes its way through the legislative process. We can assume more lawmakers will be inclined to support charter schools, but the education lobby (namely the Maine Education Association, Maine Principals' Association and Maine School Management Association) will still be in the room when the discussion comes up.

Of those three, the MEA will likely offer the most fervent opposition. (A Maine School Management staffer attended the charter schools forum to learn more, and Dick Durost of the Maine Principals' Association, without specifying, told me there might be some aspects of a charter school bill that are more "palatable" to association members than others.)

John D'Anieri, in his account of the charter schools forum, laments that public debate surrounding charters has moved little from where it was a year ago. The tenets of the MEA's opposition to the schools haven't changed, he notes. And D'Anieri even quotes an anonymous Democrat who attributes his party's (or at least the Democratic gubernatorial nominee's) November defeat at least in part to its adherence to the MEA party line.

D'Anieri is joined by Steve Bowen in calling on the union to put forward its ideas for boosting student achievement and voicing more nuanced concerns about charter schools.

The MEA no longer has its legislative allies calling the shots in Augusta. Next month, we'll see how the union adapts.

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