Proposed legislation and policy solutions range from creating greater transparency in school board and curricula processes to allowing parents more choices through school competition
AUGUSTA – Citing a worsening educational environment in Maine, Senate Republicans unveiled legislation on Tuesday to help combat declining test scores among Maine’s public school students.
Republican lawmakers expressed concern with recent trends that have appeared in education over the course of the past five years, including lower standardized test scores and a system that limits choices for parents and keeps them in the dark. They said more can be done to address last year’s dismal “Nation’s Report Card” results that showed Maine has fallen below the national average in mathematics average scores for fourth-grade public school students and are at the national average for eighth graders.
In both cases, experts consider the results to be well below proficiency. A decade ago, Maine was above the national average in these scores.
“I was on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee when we created the Maine Learning Results; and I feel like I’ve pretty much seen it all,” said Sen. Jim Libby, R-Cumberland, who was re-elected to the Maine Senate last year after a 22-year hiatus. “I think that education, the state of education in Maine hasn’t been in this poor condition for quite some time and we need to take some action – it’s as simple as that.”
Libby, who is again serving as the Senate Republican lead on the Education Committee, outlined a series of measures that promote parental empowerment through more choices for their children’s education. Modeled after Arizona’s education savings account system that was adopted just last week in Iowa and last year in West Virginia, the system boosts productivity and promotes competition for student tax dollars.
“Schools need competition. Competition creates efficiencies. It fosters innovation. It’s something that is part and parcel of our economy and it just plain works,” Libby said. “I would like to see some competition and so would the rest of my Senate colleagues in the Republican Caucus.
“It’s a fact in Maine that a child’s zip code is responsible for where they attend school. So if you’re in a failing school … you’re stuck there unless of course you live in a town that has school choice,” he added.
Citing burgeoning attendance of parents at school board meetings across the state, Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Oxford, spoke about the need for parent empowerment through transparency of the school board and administrators themselves. Too often, she said parents are left in the dark.
“Parents as a whole feel cast aside, that their values and their perspectives and even their aspirations for their child’s education is really not consequential to the decision-making process,” she said at the briefing. “A child’s parent should have the final say over the education opportunities and the content of a child’s education, not the Department of Ed[ucation].
“The person who needs to be in the driver’s seat is the parent,” she added.
For Sen. Matt Pouliot, R-Kennebec, a member of the Labor and Housing Committee and the newly created Joint Select Committee on Housing, much of the current affordable housing crisis stems from the lack of a technical and building trades-skilled workforce. Pouliot said Senate Republicans are focused on career and technical education and training to ensure that Maine’s workforce needs are aligned with the needs of the State. He also stressed the importance of the education being accessible by all. “The system that we have in place in no way ensures equity for all Maine students. We can’t unequivocally say that it does and there’s no data to support that,” he said. “What Republicans are about is ensuring equity and equitable access to high-quality education for all Maine students.”