Legislative report: Jeopardized federal school waiver and Governor’s priorities

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Below is my report from this past week in the legislature.  Please let me continue to hear your thoughts and concerns about state policy.

Responding to federal request for clarification on teacher evaluations

Recently, the state has received a letter from the federal Department of Education seeking clarification about Maine’s implementation of the compromise amendment on the rules for teacher evaluations that I helped to negotiate last session.

The Maine Department of Education is concerned that this notice jeopardizes the state’s waiver from the onerous and outdated federal requirements of No Child Left Behind.  The Department’s immediate suggestion is to amend the rules to incorporate more uniform standardized assessments and remove the provisions for local flexibility.

But, after consultation with other state educators and staff from Senator King’s office, I believe that the USDoE concerns may be addressed more productively simply by clarifying Maine’s process and providing better explanation of Maine’s efforts to improve both proficiency-based learning and professional development for educators.

So, in response to the USDoE letter, in collaboration with the Maine School Management organization and the new state Commissioner of Education, I hope to have a better proposal ready for federal consideration in the next week or two.

Bills published

Two of my bill requests were published this week, with auspiciously low numbers of LD 2 and LD 3.  LD 2: An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue for the Purchase and Development of the Bar Harbor Ferry Terminal as a Multimodal Transportation Facility was referred to the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.  LD 3: An Act To Ensure Consistent Certification of Graduation Standards in Publicly Funded Secondary Schools, a bill that ensures that charter schools are subject to the same diploma standards as public schools, was referred to the Education Committee.

We expect a complete list of this session’s approximately 1500 new bill titles to be available in the next day or so.

Governor’s inaugural address

On Wednesday, I attended the Governor’s inaugural address. While I still have concerns about significant parts of the Governor’s declared agenda, I believe that it also contains aspects with which we may productively cultivate some common interests.

In particular, the Governor repeated his interest in increasing compensation for teachers in Maine schools — possibly by funding and negotiating statewide teachers’ contracts.  He also declared renewed interest in supporting local initiatives for regional collaboration in sharing educational and professional services.

The Governor’s theme for his next term apparently is “prosperity, not poverty”.  Democratic legislative leadership has made it clear that their topmost interest this session is in creating jobs.  The closeness of those two concepts should give us a broad enough field for good discussion.

Governor’s budget proposal

On Friday afternoon, the Governor released his long-anticipated proposal for the next two-year state budget.

The Governor’s budget stops short of proposing a total repeal of the state income tax, which funds roughly half of all state programs and services.  Remarkably, it also proposes broadening and expanding the state sales tax.

Zeroed out municipal revenue sharing means that towns are likely to bear most of the collateral damage from the income tax reduction.  Secondarily, in order to counter the hit to municipal property taxpayers, the Governor offers up a repeal of the tax-exempt status of the state’s non-profit organizations such as hospitals, research laboratories, and colleges.

These are major policy changes which will engender fierce legislative debate.

On the other hand, the Governor’s budget proposal treats education relatively well, flat-funding state subsidy for schools.  The Governor also proposes additional state-level funding in support of charter schools much as my own bill request intends.

The Governor also recommends an additional $10M to support the Fund for Efficient Delivery of Educational Services to aid further regional collaboration of administrative, professional, and curriculum services, as another of my bills suggests.

So, once again, I believe that, at least in the area of education, there are common policy interests which potentially may become aligned.

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