By Sen. James Libby
(Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared in the Portland Press Herald.)
As a parent of two teens, I face the same responsibility that other parents have in raising children. Previous generations formed the fabric of the social construct we live in today. It’s the bedrock of a collective foundation that has existed for thousands of years.
Parents have always been at the focal point of their children’s lives. And despite some failures that come with being human, the majority of Maine parents provide a positive impact on the growth and development of their children.
It has become apparent that some are trying to shift the space occupied by parents. It’s not because parenting hasn’t changed – it has. From smartphone addiction to online predators, parents today worry about issues that my grandparents could not have imagined.
A small minority of people feel they should be at the center of childrearing rather than parents. A few school board members, wayward administrators and even some lawmakers who don’t hold school officials accountable enable this activist mindset. And more parents than ever are wondering if schools are withholding information about controversial policies. Content exposure should be age-appropriate. It’s a question of common decency.
I am concerned with these and other recent trends that have appeared in education over the past five years. From lower standardized test scores to a system that limits choices for parents, there is a great deal of work to be done.
According to the “Nation’s Report Card,” Maine public school students have now fallen below the national average in mathematics scores for fourth-graders and are at the national average for eighth-graders. In both cases, experts consider the results to be below proficiency. Maine was above the national average in these scores just a decade ago.
Results in English have experienced a similar downward trend in Maine. During the COVID-19 years, Maine’s English proficiency declined at a greater rate than the nation.
Unfortunately, the Maine Department of Education wants to again change the standardized test that allowed me to provide you with scientific data about our lack of progress.
I believe competition provides a roadmap for improved education and can help Maine experience a rebirth in our educational systems. For example, studies have shown that student performance improves in states where parents have multiple options of where to send their children.
Harvard economics professor Caroline Hoxby’s often-referenced 2003 study presented evidence on three parental choice reforms: vouchers in Milwaukee, charter schools in Michigan and charter schools in Arizona. In each case, findings confirmed that public schools improved when exposed to competition.
Offering more options for parents is not the law in Maine. School systems can monopolize instruction by establishing geographic districts that control access and funding. Yet competition in most areas of life drives economies, fosters innovation, and leads to maximizing success in personal and professional development. Education is no different.
Today, states such as Arizona and Iowa, among others, have adopted parental choice policies where per-pupil financial allocations generally follow the student and allow for choice of attendance between competing schools. I have introduced a bill this session that is modeled after Arizona’s law.
Under this bill, your child could attend any school of your choice without the permission of the superintendent of the “sending school” and your tax dollars would follow your child. We have nine charter schools in Maine where students can attend at no additional cost to families and an array of private schools at all levels of cost and specialty.
It’s too late for me – my son has chosen public school and my daughter is nearing completion at a private school. But I’d love to give Maine parents more options that best suit their situation.
Parental choice is a significant policy statement that differentiates Republicans and Democrats in Maine. It’s time we put parents back where they belong – enjoying the wonderful blessings of family.
Senator James Libby represents the communities of District 22. He previously served in the Maine Senate during the 117th and 118th Legislatures after serving two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. He is the Senate Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Education Committee and the Taxation Committee.