Gov. LePage, Commissioner Bowen announce new education initiatives

The following is a press release from the Office of Gov. Paul LePage

New legislation “puts students first”

AUGUSTA – Governor Paul LePage unveiled his education legislative agenda on Wednesday at the Somerset Career and Technical Education Center in Skowhegan. With the automotive shop as the backdrop, the Governor and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen described four pieces of legislation that advance the work of designing an education system around student needs.

A student instructs John Nass, Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen and Gov. Paul LePage in a raft on a shoproom floor.

Megan Orchard, of Pittsfield, a senior at Maine Central Institute, drills Gov. Paul LePage, senior policy adviser Jonathan Nass and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen in whitewater rafting. Orchard, a student in the Leadership and Outdoor Skills program at Somerset Career and Technical Center in Skowhegan, later explained to the trio what students learn from such exercises and how the Outdoor Leadership program is preparing her for a future career.

The legislation aims to provide students and families more power to choose the school setting that works best for each student. The proposals also take steps to ensure all students are taught by effective teachers and provide local school districts an incentive to save money by collaborating with other districts to provide essential services.

The legislative proposals, which have yet to be released in bill form, are closely tied to the objectives of the Maine Department of Education’s strategic plan, released in January 2012.

The four pieces of legislation are:

An Act to Enhance Career and Technical Education: This would require school districts sharing a Career and Technical Education center to adopt a common school calendar and make it easier for students to get credit at their “sending” high school and in the Maine Community College System for courses that meet certain requirements.

In his remarks, Governor LePage discussed his personal love for woodworking and his interest in making sure all students have an opportunity to learn in a way that works for them.

“We need to build an education system around what each student needs,” Gov. LePage said. “Each student learns in different ways, we need to provide multiple pathways, and CTE plays a significant role in that.”

An Act to Expand School Choice Options for Maine Families: Public schools could offer up slots to out-of-district students who could attend without being required to get superintendent approval. The legislation would remove the hold that “street address” has on where students can go to school.

“We want to allow families to have a say in what the best educational fit is for their children,” Bowen said.

If more students apply than there are slots, the school would hold a lottery and could not “cherry pick” the students they want. Any student could also choose to attend a participating private school approved by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges or that meets the requirements of Maine state basic school approval with tuition paid by the local school district. This already happens with students who come from public school districts that allow for school choice.

An Act to Remove Inequity in the Funding of Certain Schools: This legislation would remove the prohibition against religious schools receiving public funds. Any school receiving public funds under this provision would have to meet specific educational requirements –  either accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, or compliance with basic approval provisions in state law, including that all teachers are state certified and that the academic program meets certain requirements.

An Act to Ensure Effective Teaching and School Leadership: Consistent with the guidelines currently coming out of the U.S. Department of Education, this would require school districts to develop or adopt educator evaluation systems.

The Department will work with stakeholders to develop guidelines, first for teacher effectiveness, and then for teacher evaluation systems that measure effectiveness. The systems themselves would be developed locally, in line with the state guidelines. The evaluation systems would be required to use multiple measures (not just student test scores), would have to be regular, provide feedback, and include opportunities for professional growth.

The goal of such systems would be to provide quality feedback and professional growth opportunities, and to help teachers improve. But it would also provide a path for taking action to place teachers who cannot demonstrate effectiveness two years in a row into probationary status.

8 responses to “Gov. LePage, Commissioner Bowen announce new education initiatives

  1. Kenneth Coville

    Hello again Richard,
    Thank you, yes I am aware of the fact that private academies receive full tuition including local taxpayer funds for current tuitioned students from communities that do not operate schools of their own. The distinction is that the use of those local taxpayer funds are authorized by the local taxpayers through their local elected representatives. Under this proposal that authority and control over the levying and disposition of taxes is removed from the citizens and given to private individuals.
    The Superintendent’s agreements are not as you say a “back door” approach to providing choice. The Superintendent’s agreement option was created by the legislature to address individual situations where it is determined by both superintendents that it is “in the educational interest” of the student that the transfer be approved. It is fully within the authority of the school board to direct the superintendent through school board policy as to when and under what conditions such transfers shall be approved. The key point to keep in mind is that those transfers are subject to the will of the elected representatives of the citizens.

  2. Richard C. Larson

    Hi Ken Coville

    You bring up some excellent points.

    However note that private academies are already receiving full tuition up to the amount allowed by the State and the town that the students reside in only receive State subsidy which is less than the amount of tuition charged per student. Note that the current Supt. agreements are a “back door approach” allowed for parents and students in allowing and/or receiving school choice. We need a front door approach available for all students.

    Richard C. Larson

  3. Hi Richard,
    I read your post with interest. You suggest that not only the private academies but also receiving public schools be paid full tuition rates for students enrolling in another town under the school choice option. You suggest that the resident town receive the state subsidy and then pay the receiving school full tuition just as is proposed for private academies. I appreciate your suggestion for equal funding for the receiving public school as for the private school.
    However I would argue that they should be made equal by only the state subsidy going to the private school rather than full tuition including local tax funds. The basis for my argument is one upon which our nation was founded. No Taxation without representation. This is a fundamental principle of our republic that the citizens either directly or through elected representatives control the expenditure of public funds. Since the founding of our nation this has been a bedrock concept. James Otis of Boston revolutionary fame and friend of Thomas Paine famously stated “taxation without representation is tyranny”
    Under current law locally elected school boards develop and propose budgets to the citizens for their approval. Not only do the citizens have direct power to vote on these proposed budgets they also elect the representatives to the school board that develop the budgets and direct the operation of the school. The citizens through the school boards and through the annual budget vote determine the local taxes for education and direct their use.
    The proposal that local taxpayer funds be transferred to another public or private school without any representation or authority to determine the manner of use of those funds nor any authority is clearly and simply “forced taxation without representation”
    Some would object to this argument raising the current practice of some communities that do not operate a school to tuition their students to another public or private school. The difference is that in those cases the community makes this choice either directly or through elected representatives on the use of the public funds. The citizens retain authority over the levying and disposition of these taxes.
    Some might ask if this is true why does the portion of the proposal that would transfer state funds not also represent the despotic function of “taxation without representation”. The answer is that if those funds are used for this purpose it would be with the approval of the elected representatives of the people in the legislature. While the merits of the policy can and should be debated by those representatives it is certainly within their legitimate authority to appropriate and direct taxes at the state level. If the citizens disagree with their decisions they can elect new representatives. What is not legitimate is for the legislature to usurp the authority of the local citizens and their locally elected representatives in the raising and disposition of local property taxes as this proposal would do.
    To see this issue more clearly it may be helpful to think of the same proposal being applied to other uses of public taxpayer funds. For example if applied to a community’s fire department the proposal would provide the opportunity for a private citizen of one municipality to contract with another municipality for fire protection and present a bill of demand to their own town for that service. Similarly applied to police protection a private citizen could hire a private security firm and present the invoice to their town of residence for payment. While each of these examples may sound ridiculous they are in fact the same proposal applied to other uses of taxpayer funds.
    The bottom line is that so long as public taxpayer funds are used to provide for the education of the children of our communities the authorization and disposition of those funds must reside with the citizens of those communities directly or through the community’s elected representatives.

  4. School districts competing against each other is not a good idea. School district funding is dependent upon property valuations which increases the tax base and make one district richer than another. Why do you think the Maine State Principals Association has different levels of sports competition (A,B,C,D)? Smaller and poorer school districts would be forced to raise taxes they cannot afford in order to compete with towns such as Falmouth, Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth and more.

    “EducationEvolving ” is a wonderful plan brought forth by the many stakeholders in education. I commend them and you highly!

    Why would you sabotage this plan by bringing forth these devisive bills? ‘EducationEvolving” is based on cooperation from the State of Maine, school districts and teachers and not pitting them against each other.

    Please do not throw the baby out with the bath water!

    Have a great day!

  5. The Act to Expand School Choice Options for Maine Families is an outstanding idea, but An Act to Remove Inequity in the Funding of Certain Schools is an outrageous endorsement of religious education. Taxpayer funds should not support religious organizations whatsoever. Moreover, quite sadly, there seems to be no willingness to offer enhanced G&T, IB, or STEM options around the state.

  6. Who determines the rigorousness of parochial school curriculums? Thanks Jim in Fairfield Center

  7. I have taught for over thirty years and I totally agree with school choice. I would put certain safe guards (i.e., a student must remain in a system for two years unless the family moves). I would also consider partial transfers: for example, a student might spend half a day at one school for academics, and attend another nearby school for music or some other specialty program. We already do this for technical school and early college programs. The possibilities are endless! If all the students leave a school, then there are more issues than just open enrollment. Commissioner Bowen was absolutely correct! He has forced educators to face the “monster in the closet.” Good educators will get better, great educators will thrive, and bad educators will change their profession or become better.

    I think there are many educators who would support school choice if they truly understood all the benefits for students.

  8. Richard C. Larson

    Pleased that Maine is addressing all aspects of allowing students the opportunity to seek school choice. I find it interesting that private academies currently receive indirect State aid–in that towns who tuition students to the academies receive State subsidy to help offset the tuition paid to the academies. Therefore if academics are to continue to receive the break, then private christian schools should receive the same. If school choice is allowed for all students, then the receiving school should receive the same tuition amount per student as they receive from current tuition students. The town where the student comes from should receive the State Subsidy. State Subsidy to the receiving school under the current Supt. agreement process per student is less than the tuition amount received per student. State subsidy should stay with the town where students reside which is the current practice with tuition students.

    Richard Larson
    Machias

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