Governor Paul LePage unveiled his education legislative agenda on Wednesday at the Somerset Career and Technical Education Center in Skowhegan. With the automotive shop as the backdrop, the Governor and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen described four pieces of legislation that advance the work of designing an education system around student needs.
The legislation aims to provide students and families more power to choose the school setting that works best for each student. The proposals also take steps to ensure all students are taught by effective teachers and provide local school districts an incentive to save money by collaborating with other districts to provide essential services.
The legislative proposals, which have yet to be released in bill form, are closely tied to the objectives of the Maine Department of Education's strategic plan, released in January 2012. The four pieces of legislation are:
* An Act to Enhance Career and Technical Education: This would require school districts sharing a Career and Technical Education center to adopt a common school calendar and make it easier for students to get credit at their "sending" high school and in the Maine Community College System for courses that meet certain requirements.
In his remarks Governor LePage discussed his personal love for woodworking and his interest in making sure all students have an opportunity to learn in a way that works for them.
"We need to build an education system around what each student needs," Gov. LePage said. "Each student learns in different ways, we need to provide multiple pathways, and CTE plays a significant role in that."
* An Act to Expand School Choice Options for Maine Families: Public schools could offer up slots to out-of-district students who could attend without being required to get superintendent approval. The legislation would remove the hold that "street address" has on where students can go to school.
"We want to allow families to have a say in what the best educational fit is for their children," Bowen said.
If more students apply than there are slots, the school would hold a lottery and could not "cherry pick" the students they want. Any student could also choose to attend a participating private school approved by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges or that meets the requirements of Maine state basic school approval with tuition paid by the local school district. This already happens with students who come from public school districts that allow for school choice.
* An Act to Remove Inequity in the Funding of Certain Schools: This legislation would remove the prohibition against religious schools receiving public funds. Any school receiving public funds under this provision would have to meet specific educational requirements -- either accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, or compliance with basic approval provisions in state law, including that all teachers are state certified and that the academic program meets certain requirements.
* An Act to Ensure Effective Teaching and School Leadership: Consistent with the guidelines currently coming out of the U.S. Department of Education, this would require school districts to develop or adopt educator evaluation systems.
The Department will work with stakeholders to develop guidelines, first for teacher effectiveness, and then for teacher evaluation systems that measure effectiveness. The systems themselves would be developed locally, in line with the state guidelines. The evaluation systems would be required to use multiple measures (not just student test scores), would have to be regular, provide feedback, and include opportunities for professional growth.
The goal of such systems would be to provide quality feedback and professional growth opportunities, and to help teachers improve. But it would also provide a path for taking action to place teachers who cannot demonstrate effectiveness two years in a row into probationary status.