AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul R. LePage on Friday continued to roll out his education reform initiatives, releasing a pair of bills designed to increase school choice and educator accountability. The bills are expected to meet heavy opposition from school unions.
The first bill, L.D. 1510, An Act to Ensure Statewide School Accountability and Improvement, would establish and implement school improvement plans based on the governor’s A-F grading system.
The school improvement plans, according to the bill, must set specific, measurable objectives for substantive and continuous improvement in student outcomes. If the governor’s bill passes, under-performing schools will receive special, directed assistance to help them improve.
Optional elements of the bill include provisions that would allow for the removal of school principals who prove unable to execute “turnaround” strategies for struggling schools, the administration of faculty quality reviews, and the restructuring and/or lengthening of the school day, week or year.
Maine’s unionized education workers, known in Democratic parlance as “stakeholders,” are expected to oppose any attempt to hold educators accountable for student outcomes.
The Maine Principal’s Association (MPA) has traditionally opposed any threat to the job security of school principals, much as the Maine Education Association (MEA), also known as the teachers’ union, has opposed consequential quality reviews for teachers. Both groups have opposed attempts to extend the length of school days and years because of the added work load associated with such changes.
The governor’s second education reform bill, L.D. 1529, An Act to Expand School Choice for Maine Students, would allow students to escape underperforming schools and cause failing school administrative units to pay for such students’ tuition and transportation costs.
L.D. 1529 is the enforcement mechanism for L.D. 1510 – if a school fails to improve, students can go elsewhere without bearing the financial burden of attending another school themselves.
Critics have said that forcing schools to pay tuition and transportation costs for students who flee to better schools amounts to punishing poor performing schools. The administration has countered that the alternative is punishing students simply because they live in a district with an underperforming school.
L.D. 1529 would also allow private or public institutions of higher education to authorize charter schools within the state – a move sure to anger Democrats on the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee who have made undermining charter schools a top priority.
Earlier in the week, Sen. Rebecca J. Millett (D-Cape Elizabeth) and Rep. W. Bruce Macdonald (D-Boothbay), top Democrats on the Education Committee, staged a press conference in order to attack LePage’s A-F school grades. They also used the press event to present their own school evaluation system.
Both Sen. Millett and Rep. Macdonald refused to answer reporters’ question regarding how long Democrats have been working on their alternative to LePage’s plan, leading State House Republicans to conclude that the Democratic alternative is merely an ill-conceived attack on the governor.