MDI RSS Legislative Update - 4/26

MDI Regional School System Legislative Update - 4/26/2011

 

LD 250: An Act To Permit Tuition Subsidies by Municipalities, Rep. Volk

...allows municipalities to give subsidies from their general funds to parents to reimburse them for part or all of the tuition the parents paid to private schools that are precluded from receiving tuition funding from the State. In Joyce v. State of Maine, 951 A.2d 69 (Me. 2008), the Law Court essentially acknowledged that it would be constitutionally permissible for municipalities to adopt such subsidy programs, but held that current Maine law, the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 20-A, section 2951, prohibits municipalities from doing so.

 

We understand this bill’s primary purpose is part of a concerted strategy to remove Maine’s Title 20-A, section 2951statutory prohibition against the use of public tax dollars for religious education. The MDIRSS board voted on 4/25/2011 to oppose this bill on principle.

 

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LD 1283: An Act To Allow Students Choice in High School Enrollment, Representative Maeghan Maloney (D-Augusta)

...requires school administrative units to allow school choice. Each school administrative unit must allow up to 20 8th grade students choice in public high school enrollment. Receiving schools are required to take the students as tuition students.

 

While this bill is limited to public school choice, it fits into a larger discussion within the state about school choice and private education.  While we don’t think MDI HS is threatened by public school choice (and, in fact, our enrollment might benefit from an extension of choice), the bill as written is insufficiently clear about reconciling the differences between sending and receiving schools’ per-pupil expenditures. For a high school where the costs of programming are above the state mean, that issue would be a concern for our taxpayers. The MDIRSS board voted on 4/25/2011 to oppose all provisions of this bill.

 

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LD 1316: An Act To Expand Magnet Schools in Maine, Representative Stephen Lovejoy

Concept draft ...proposes to give school districts across the State authority to create magnet schools, either within their communities or in partnerships with other districts. Magnet schools that are created under this bill will be eligible for state funds under the essential programs and services funding formula.

 

This bill remains a concept draft. While we’re open-minded about the possibility for innovative new educational programs, we’re wary of potential consequence if narrowly specialized schools were to sap the impetus and resources for similar broader programs in local schools.  Also, as minimum receivers of state aid, the MDI schools would have particular concerns about the details and mechanism of how state and local funds would transfer under this bill. The MDIRSS board has NOT taken a position either for or against this bill.

 

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LD 1388: An Act To Allow Schools To Adopt Approved Alternative Curricula, Representative Alan Casavant

... amends the school restructuring statutes to encourage school administrative units to collaborate with approved private schools to develop alternative curriculum frameworks to achieve school restructuring at the middle school or high school level. The bill allows a school administrative unit that is undergoing restructuring at the middle school or high school level to request a waiver of the rule requirements related to the system of learning results established in the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 20A, section 6209 if the waiver is necessary to achieve school restructuring and an alternative curriculum framework proposed for the school administrative unit's school restructuring differs from, but does not conflict with, the rules related to the system of learning results.

 

Collaboration with private schools potentially raises concerns about the fair use of public funds.  A waiver of public requirements to meet the learning results raises concern about educational equity. The MDIRSS board voted on 4/25/2011 firmly to oppose any effort to waive public education standards for certain schools.

 

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LD 1414: An Act To Provide Property Tax Relief for Year-round Residents 67 Years of Age or Older, Representative Alan Casavant [Referred to TAXATION Committee]

...establishes an additional property tax relief for residents 67 years of age or older who qualify for the Circuitbreaker Program, have an income of no more than $75,000 and assets of no more than $200,000.

 

While framed as property tax relief for the elderly, the bill does so by specifically isolating and relieving the the proportion of local taxes represented by education. We believe it is improper to characterize a portion of a local tax obligation for a subset of taxpayers as an individualized fee-for-service.  On that basis, the MDIRSS board voted on 4/25/2011 to oppose this bill.

 

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LD 1424: An Act To Enhance Parental Roles in Education Choice, Representative Amy Volk

...allows parents to petition for the restructuring of a school that is not making adequate yearly progress. Restructuring may include closure of the school, conversion of the school to a charter school, replacement of school leadership and teachers and oversight by the State of structural improvements. This bill is based on a process referred to as the "Parent Trigger" adopted by the State of California in 2009.

 

This “Parent Trigger” bill seeks implement in Maine a law implemented by charter school operators in California that allows a simple majority of students’ parents to direct the radical school conversions to private charter schools.  We believe that authority over public schools Maine should be retained by the communities and taxpayers that support them, not just one organized group of current parents. On this basis, the MDIRSS board voted on 4/25/2011 to oppose this bill.

 

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LD 1425: An Act To Protect the Quality and Integrity of Maine's Educational Materials, Representative Mark Eves

...requires that, beginning with school year 2012-2013, each school board amend its policy adopted for the selection of educational materials and approve only educational materials that are consistent with a course of study aligned with the system of learning results established in the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 20-A, section 6209 and with Department of Education rules pertaining to school approval standards. The bill also requires the Commissioner of Education to annually review school board policies for selecting and purchasing educational materials, to implement the enforcement measures established by rule and to notify the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over education matters of the school administrative units that fail to comply with these requirements.

 

We believe that this bill may represent cumbersome and unwarranted meddling by the state Department of Education over local school decisions about curriculum and teaching practices.  On this basis, the MDIRSS board voted on 4/25/2011 to oppose this bill.

 

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LD 949: An Act To Update Maine's High School Graduation Requirements, Senator Alfond

...concept draft bill to establish standards-based high school graduation requirements.

 

As a system that has already invested substantial effort into standards-based graduation requirements, we are interested in this bill and intend to follow it closely to make sure it doesn’t harm or impede the specific progress we’ve already made in this area. The MDIRSS board has NOT taken a position either for or against this bill.

 

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LD 1422: An Act To Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy, Senator Brian Langley

...1. Establishes an education policy, core priorities for the State's education system, education system goals, benchmarks and intervention strategies; 2. Requires the development of a strategic plan to achieve the goals within the policy framework; 3. Requires that the state budget document present proposed expenditures on early childhood development, public education, adult education, higher education and workforce development in a manner that facilitates evaluation by the Legislature of whether funds are being appropriated and allocated in a manner that best accords with the established policy framework, advances the established goals and implements the strategic plan; 4. Requires that the Commissioner of Education adopt rules prescribing a uniform process for kindergarten screening in a manner that facilitates reliable and consistent measurement of statewide kindergarten readiness; 5. Requires school administrative units to award high school diplomas based on standards established by rule; and 6. Requires that, beginning with the class of 2015, students graduating from high schools demonstrate proficiency in the content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science and technology, social studies and health, physical education and wellness. Beginning with the class of 2018, students graduating from high schools must demonstrate proficiency in the content areas of career and education development; English language arts; world languages; health, physical education and wellness; mathematics; science and technology; social studies; and visual and performing arts.

 

This is an ambitious, long-range set of goals. We’re interested and not necessarily opposed.  As always, we remain wary of unintended consequences of large state-driven initiatives. The MDIRSS board has NOT taken a position either for or against this bill.

 

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LD 1488: An Act To Create Innovative Public School Zones and Innovative Public School Districts, Senator Langley

... provides for the creation, submission, review and approval of innovation plans to establish innovative public school zones and innovative public school districts. An innovative public school zone and an innovative public school district must demonstrate a system for accountability for student achievement that exceeds, but is not in conflict with, the State's accountability standards and the State's assessment system. The bill allows one or more public schools within a school administrative unit to initiate the creation of an innovation plan for submission to its school board. The bill also permits a school board to initiate and collaborate with one or more of the public schools it operates to create an innovation plan. The bill provides that a school board may obtain waivers of laws, rules and local policy requirements from the Commissioner of Education that are considered necessary for an innovative public school zone or district to implement an innovation plan.

 

As we understand it, this bill seeks to strike the right balance between allowing public schools sufficient flexibility to pursue educational innovations without creating unfair inequalities of opportunity.  The devil will be in the details so we are interested in following this concept. The MDIRSS board has NOT taken a position either for or against this bill.