"Putting Students First": critique of the Governor's initiative

14 February 2012

Senator Langley, Distinguished members of the Education Committee,

Last night at our regular monthly meeting, the Board of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System discussed the initiative “Putting Students First” announced by the Governor on February 8.

There are indeed some portions on which we probably agree - such as those regarding coordination with Career and Technical centers. (Although we note with disfavor that the Governor wants to constrain public schools to more common schedules at the same time that he see reasons to advocate more freedom in scheduling for charter schools.)

We also support some aspects of the effort to improve teaching through better administrative evaluations. We welcome the discussion of how to improve Maine’s education, preparation, and support of teachers through college teaching programs. But we remain concerned that efforts to tie teacher compensation to student test scores will lead to distortion of broader more important efforts toward school improvement.

However, we remain most gravely concerned and disturbed by the Governor’s proposal for unrestricted transfer of public funds from taxpayers to religious schools at a time when the state acknowledges that there are insufficient funds to fully support the present comprehensive system of public education in Maine. We object to this in principle and in no uncertain terms.

You will recall that last session we wrote publicly against similar legislation, submitting testimony against tuition subsidy by municipalities and against tuition tax credits. Our views on this remain unchanged.

Second, we are deeply concerned about the proposal to shift public funds from local schools to other districts outside of the oversight of the local taxpayers who remain obligated to bear the costs and responsibilities of maintaining a local school system, even after the state opts to distribute handouts to subgroups with special and parochial self-interests.

The details of how these costs, both state and local, are to be shifted around beyond the accountability and oversight of local citizens and taxpayers remains a significant concern.

As with the charter school school bill last session, we see this as indicating a continuing erosion at the state level of commitment to the real challenges of maintaining a comprehensive, fair, and equitable system of public education for all Maine students.

We believe the first test in evaluating new state educational policy should be whether it improves or diminishes Maine’s capacity for providing a free and appropriate public education to all Maine’s children, irrespective of their means and advantages. On balance, we understand this initiative to weaken this overall capacity more than it strengthens it.

Brian Hubbell, Bar Harbor
Legislative subcommittee chair,
Mount Desert Island Regional School System