AUGUSTA – The Legislature’s Education Committee agreed on Thursday to pursue discussions about increasing school choice options for Maine students.
The committee voted unanimously to create a group that will develop models for school choice and bring those back to the Legislature to consider next year. Gov. Paul LePage’s school choice bill, LD 1854: An Act to Expand Educational Opportunities for Maine Students, would have allowed public schools and some private schools to open their schools to students from other districts, and given parents in those districts the right to send their kids to those schools, even without agreement from their own superintendent.
“We wish they’d moved on it this year,” Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said. “Maine families are looking for freedom to make the best choices for their kids. Still, I’m encouraged that the committee members recognize the need for us to take action to give all Maine families the same choices that some already have.”
Committee members expressed concerns about the finances and how they would affect school districts. In addition, they raised concerns about students from poor families who might not have the ability to get transportation to out-of-district schools, creating a two-tiered system that favored those with money.
“I’m confident we could have worked through those issues,” Bowen said.
The revised bill now goes to the full Legislature for a vote, possibly in the next week or two.
Earlier in the afternoon, the committee voted 8-2 against a bill that would have allowed public funds to go to some religious schools for students coming from “choice” communities. Students in those communities often can already attend private schools with partial public funding. The proposed legislation would have removed the prohibition against extending the same funding for religious school students. That provision was only implemented in 1981.
The two bills are the last of four education bills put forward by the Governor and heard this week by the committee. On Monday, the committee voted 12-1 in favor of a bill to enhance career and technical education opportunities for students. The committee voted unanimously on Wednesday in favor of a bill that will result in clear standards for teacher evaluations and create a better, fairer system for evaluating teachers, providing them professional support, and, in cases of repeat poor performance, moving them out of the profession.
For more information on the Governor’s education agenda, including the text of the bills and Commissioner Bowen’s testimony, visit the Maine Department of Education website at: http://www.maine.gov/doe/first.