Over the past few days, the Legislature has shot down a series of bills and resolutions aimed at shoring up parental rights, safeguarding against the politicization of education, and expanding opportunities for school choice.
LD 1953: Resolution, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Establish a Parental Bill of Rights
LD 1953, proposed by Rep. Jennifer L. Poirier (R-Skowhegan), would have given Maine voters the opportunity to weigh in a potential amendment to the State Constitution establishing parental rights.
The proposed amendment would have read:
“The natural, inherent and unalienable rights of minor children are held by their parents or guardians until the age of majority or a grant of emancipation. This State, its political subdivisions and all governmental entities may not infringe on the authority of parents to direct the upbringing, education and care for the physical, mental and spiritual health of their children, absent abuse or neglect by the parent or guardian or criminal acts by the minor.”
The question posed to voters would have read:
“Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to describe parental rights that are reserved to the parent of a minor child and limit the infringement of these rights by the State or a political subdivision of the State?”
In her testimony before the Committee on Judiciary, Rep. Poirier stated that “our children are not a social experiment.”
“Parents know their children better than any other person. It is time that we promote communication and conversation. It is time to break down the barriers that have been building and focus on family, focus on core education,” she said.
Opponents of the resolution raised concerns about giving parents “the ultimate decision-making authority regarding medical treatment, education, and religious upbringing, which could potentially undermine the interests of the children.”
Concerns were also raised about the potential of using the amendment to “promote discriminatory practices against vulnerable groups of children, such as those from minority backgrounds, LGBTQ+ children, or children with disabilities.”
Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) and Sen. Peter Lyford (R-Penobscot) were the only Senate Republicans to join Democrats in voting against the bill.
LD 1129: An Act to Enact the Curriculum Transparency Act
Introduced by Rep. Heidi H. Sampson (R-Alfred), LD 1129 would have required public school administrative units (SAUs) to make a plethora of information easily accessible to parents and the public.
Primarily, this legislation would have required that SAUs make available “an easy-to-search database” containing “all curricula” and “source materials,” as well as a list of the district’s professional development speakers and their associated costs.
SAUs also would have been barred from basing their choice of class offerings or curricular materials on the “immutable” characteristics of students, families, and the community, “psychological or social-emotional data” or the presence of “trauma and other psychological and emotional problems.”
They also would have been required to “adopt policies and procedures to ensure the approved curriculum presented is implemented in the classroom without change.”
Rep. Sampson testified Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs that “sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
“Let’s start to shine a light. If schools have nothing to hide, we can help set policies to guide them regarding the issue of transparency. If schools were to demonstrate genuine transparency and clear communications, we would see less strife and angst occurring at the local district level. This would only benefit our children,” she said.
Opponents of the bill argued that most districts already post their curriculum online, making a requirement do to so unnecessary.
Concerns were also raised that the bill would limit teachers’ flexibility and “undermine the educational professionals who are trained in the development of lesson plans to meet the learning targets set by the school board.”
It was also suggested that using the kind of data barred in the bill is essential “to be able to meet the needs of the students.”
Others claimed the bill would undercut Maine’s long-held tradition of local control.
LD 1589: Resolve, Directing the Department of Education to Adopt Rules Prohibiting Teachers in Public Schools from Engaging in Political, Ideological and Religious Advocacy in the Classroom
This resolution, introduced by Rep. Katrina J. Smith (R-Palermo), would have directed the State Board of Education to adopt clear rules and enforcement mechanisms to ensure “appropriate and professional ethical behavior by teachers” by prohibiting them “from using the classroom to engage in political, ideological, or religious advocacy.”
More specifically, LD 1589 outlined a number of guidelines to which teachers would be required to adhere “during class time or while otherwise operating within the scope of employment as a teacher.”
Those rules included a prohibition on educators “introducing any controversial issue that is not germane to the topic of the course being taught” and from “advocating in a partisan manner.”
The resolution also called for a ban on teachers “endorsing, supporting or opposing” elected or appointed officials, candidates or nominees for public office, as well as any legislation, regulation, court case, or executive action.
Under this legislation, educators would also be barred from “segregating students according to race or singling out one racial group of students as responsible for the suffering or inequities experienced by another racial group of students.”
“This resolve protects every viewpoint, because it keeps every personal opinion out of the classroom,” Rep. Smith said in her testimony before the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.
Smith described the purpose of LD 1589 as “preventing K-12 classrooms from becoming partisan political platforms, and to keep their captive youthful audiences from being victims of partisan political indoctrination by their teachers.”
Opponents of the resolution argued that the language was too “subjective,” making it “dangerous” for teachers whose subjects may inherently involve the discussion of politics or religions.
Others argued that the legislation was unnecessary, as “districts have policies” and major teachers’ unions in the state have a “professional codes of ethics.”
LD 1589 failed along party lines in the House with a roll call vote of 80-64. The resolution was defeated in the Senate by a roll call vote of 22-11, with Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) joining the Democrats in opposition to the measure.
LD 1741 – An Act to Promote Educational Opportunity Through the Educational Choice Tax Credit Program, Eliminating Certain Restrictions on Charter Schools and Virtual Public Charter Schools, Allowing More Entities to Authorize Charter Schools and Clarifying Educational Policy on Immunization Requirements
LD 1741, introduced by Rep. Barbara A. Bagshaw (R-Windham), would have expanded access to school choice by making several alterations and additions to existing state law.
The bill firstly would have added language to the statute describing the state’s responsibility for public education clarifying that SAUs are tasked with providing for the education of all school-aged children living within the district.
With respect to charter schools, the bill would have repealed provisions limiting the number of charter schools allowed to operate at any given time in the state. It also would have eliminated the law capping enrollment in virtual public charter schools.
In addition to this, LD 1741 would have added the University of Maine System and “educational or research-based nonprofit organizations” to Maine’s list of eligible charter school authorizers.
This bill also would have created an Educational Tax Credit program, wherein residents could claim a tax credit for donations made to certain scholarship organizations.
To be eligible, scholarship organizations would have been required, among other things, spend at least 90% of donations and all earned interest on students.
Rep. Bagshaw testified that LD 1741 “provides more choice in education because, at least to me and many of my neighbors, it’s abundantly clear that parents and families desperately need choice.”
Some opponents focused on the aspects of the bill related to charter school reform. They argued that lifting the cap on charter schools “will just add to [The Maine Charter School Commission’s] workload and make it harder for the Commission and its limited resources and staff to dedicate the attention some charters obviously need.”
The Maine Revenue Service raised concerns about the feasibility of the the Educational Tax Credit, given that there were a number of technical issues with the program as it was written.
LD 1741 was defeated along partisan lines in the House in a roll call vote of 80-64. The bill was struck down with a nearly-partisan vote in the Senate, with Sen. Mike Tipping (D-Penobscot) breaking ranks to join the Republicans in support of the measure.
To see more of coverage from the Maine Wire of this year’s education-related legislation, check out these stories: