Commentary

Madame Speaker Shuts Down Debate on School Choice

on

If it weren’t for double standards, Speaker of the House Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) wouldn’t have any standards at all.

Yes, that’s a damning indictment, but how else can we explain her decision to block consideration of a legislative resolution celebrating freedom of choice in education?  I thought Gideon was pro-choice.

But wait! That’s not where I’m going with this.

Last week, Speaker Gideon defended her decision to kill a joint Senate/House resolution recognizing the seventh annual National School Choice Week on the grounds that leadership wants to stay away from “politically divisive” resolutions. Frankly, that doesn’t even pass the straight-face test.

The language of the proposed resolution actually recognizes public schools as the first choice for parents and their children. No reasonable person could possibly interpret any of the verbiage in the proposed resolution as the least bit divisive or partisan. It is entirely neutral with respect to which choices are best for students.

Rewind to the 126th Legislature in 2013.

In her first term in the House, Rep. Gideon was fine with voting for a joint resolution calling on Congress to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants. Sponsored by former Senate President Justin Alfond (D-Portland), the ideologically-driven pro-amnesty resolution was extremely divisive. Gideon and all her Democrat colleagues in the House followed like sheep when then Speaker of the House Mark Eves (D-North Berwick) put the measure up for a vote.

Clearly, Speaker Gideon’s lame excuse about why she blocked the parental-choice resolution is just that: lame. Gideon has dropped the mask, and revealed herself as a left-wing progressive legislator marching in lockstep with the teachers’ union bosses. Her ideological bias against allowing parents to choose what is best for their own children is now on full display at the very beginning of her tenure as Speaker.

Fortunately, while she did succeed in killing a parental choice resolution, she won’t be able to shut down debate on legislation aimed at increasing freedom of choice in education during this session of the Legislature. Several pending bills address Maine’s education crisis. Yes, I said crisis. Simply put, we’re not getting much of a return on the vast sums of money Maine taxpayers spend on public schools.

Year after year, legislators receive reports that fewer than 40% of Maine eighth-graders are proficient in reading and math. Yet spending on public education is up 27% in the past decade, an increase of nearly half a billion dollars. Meanwhile, K-12 enrollment is in a free-fall, down 23,000 students over the past ten years. We’re spending more money year after year to educate fewer and fewer students, and student achievement is flat at best. More than half of Maine high-school graduates who enter the community college system are unprepared; they need to take remedial courses.

Parents understand what’s going on, and they want better options for their kids. That’s why we have wait lists at 8 of the 9 charter schools in Maine.

I don’t believe we will ever fix what’s wrong with Maine’s public schools until we recognize that compulsory unionism is at odds with quality education. Monopoly collective bargaining empowers teachers’ union bosses to perpetuate mediocrity in the classroom. It’s common knowledge that terminating an incompetent teacher once tenure has been achieved is a long and expensive process that few administrators are willing to tackle.

A fellow legislator, who served as a high school principal in Maine for decades, told me that it took him on average five years to terminate the contract of an underperforming teacher. Make no mistake: union bosses aren’t paid to make sure kids get a great education; their job is to protect teachers’ job security, pay, and benefits.

If her voting record is any guide, Speaker Gideon will once again side with the union bosses when workplace freedom (right-to-work) legislation comes before the House later this year.

Bottom line: we need more freedom, not less, for parents to choose the best education options for their children. Unfortunately, Maine’s new Speaker of the House has demonstrated she’s on the wrong side of this debate.

About Larry Lockman

State Representative Larry Lockman represents Maine House District 137, which includes parts of Hancock, Washington, and Penobscot counties. He may be contacted at Lawrence.Lockman@legislature.maine.gov

Recommended for you

Comments