K-12 school grades a missed opportunity

By Chris Hall, CEO, Portland Regional Chamber
Posted May 06, 2013, at 11:32 a.m.

Last week, the LePage Administration released a letter grade, ranging from A to F, for every public K-12 school in Maine. Coverage and comment can be found below in the State Policy: Education section.

The intent behind the decision to hand out the grades seems to have been a desire to identify those public schools that are struggling. That was accomplished. Unfortunately, much else was missed, or lost.

As a promoter of our region we lost ground with parents, professionals and businesses who are considering relocation to our region — no one wants a mediocre or failing school in their community. The same is true for our effort to keep people and jobs here.

We missed the chance to tell a good story of adversity overcome — look at the East End School, discussed in the PPH link just below, for only one example.

The grades themselves, although deeply flawed (who grades on a bell curve these days?), aren’t the problem. The real problem is that state government will offer no meaningful support to improve low performing schools. And since the grades track closely with wealth and poverty in school districts, we’ve missed the opportunity for a powerful bipartisan, state and local conversation about overcoming poverty as we improve school performance.

Ironically, as the grades came out the Portland Regional Chamber and the Portland School System were running the city’s first ‘Principal for a Day’ program ( BDN). Seventeen CEOs each spent a full day accompanying a school principal, sharing experiences, resources and opportunities. The impact was far beyond our hopes — relationships formed that will last decades.

Maine Today Media/Portland Press Herald Publisher and CEO Lisa DeSisto participated in our program and wrote about her visit to the East End School — one of the schools that got an F from the Governor ( PPH). I think she captured everything the administration missed about school grades. Please take a moment to read her op-ed from yesterday’s paper.

Notable Read: Some days there’s just too much to read. If you only have time for one thing:

Albert A. DiMillo Jr. has been an active voice in state house tax policy debates for many years now. Last week in the BDN, DiMillo asked a provocative but important question: Do Maine legislators understand tax policy?

DiMillo provides a sophisticated view of the political and policy dynamics of Maine’s on-going tax reform efforts. You may not agree with everything he says, but you’ll have a new perspective on the news this week if you take the time to read his column.

‘Gang of 11’ Tax Reform: Speaking of tax reform — a bipartisan group of eleven lawmakers introduced a comprehensive package of proposed tax reforms ( BDN, PPH, LSJ, MPBN, BDN). Reaction to the combination of lower income, more sales and less property taxes for Maine residents was mixed ( BDN, PPH, MPBN, PDS).

If you like you can read the text ( LD 1496) or the supporters’ summary, or you can listen to Sen. Roger Katz and Sen. Seth Goodall (two of the 11) talk about the proposal on WGAN. Comment came from none other than Grover Nordquist ( PPH, BDN), along with more familiar sources: the PPH editors, Dan Demeritt, Mike Tipping, Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman, John Frary, Doug Rooks and Bill Nemitz. Notably, only Nordquist gave the plan a full thumbs down.

The bill is up for hearing this Friday (see below), but because it generates enough new state revenue to replace the governor’s proposed cut to municipal revenue sharing, it’s fair to expect the discussion will continue for weeks to come. The bill’s chief architect, Sen. Richard Woodbury, will meet with our Advocacy Committee in two weeks to discuss the bill.

Spotlight Legislation

The state house is about to hit its top gear — according to legislative leaders there are still almost 1,000 bills ‘in committee’ (i.e. not acted on yet by the various legislative committees and sent on to the full House and Senate for disposition). The Sun Journal editors commented on the crush of work and the loss of public input in the rush to finish committee work in the next 18 days so that the legislature can adjourn on time by June 19.

Click here to see the best source of information on day-to-day work at the state house. And remember these schedules will change hourly, so call ahead if you plan on going to Augusta. There are 372 bills being worked in the next 5 days — so far — and here are three you may hear more about, all up for hearing on Friday morning:

• Sen. Emily Cain will present LD 1488, a bill to reinstate biennial examination of all state tax breaks, to the Taxation Committee. Her bill joins at least 5 others with the same purpose.

• Sen. Brian Langley will present LD 1489, a tax credit proposal designed to close the skills gap, to the Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future Committee. Langley’s bill is the latest in a long line of workforce proposals before the committee.

• Rep. Gary Knight will present LD 1496, the ‘Gang of 11’ tax reform bill, to the Taxation Committee. The bill is discussed above — it joins a dozen other income tax and sales tax restructuring bills already in the committee’s possession.

In the State House: Groups pushed for expansion of Medicaid in Maine ( PPH, BDN), and federal officials said funding was available ( PPH). The LSJ editors urged expansion.

But Democrat links between Medicaid expansion and the Governor’s plan to pay off hospital debt drew criticism from the Maine Hospital Association ( PPH) and hospitals said the delay will impose additional costs ( PPH, BDN, MPBN). Comment on the Democrats’ linking strategy came from the PPH editors, the BDN editors, Rep. Ken Fredette on WGAN and Mike Tipping. The week ended without progress ( MPBN, LSJ).

Jail consolidation continues to suffer from lack of state funding ( LSJ, MPBN). The LSJ editors said it was time for a change.

State Policy round-up

Ballot watch: A bill to shrink the size of the legislature was defeated ( BDN).

• Bonds: The Governor’s $100 million dollar jail bond remains under consideration ( PPH).

• Budget: The non-partisan staff at the Office of Fiscal and Program Review produces Fiscal News, a monthly summary of state budget information. April’s issue will keep you current on state finances.

• Education: The LePage Administration issued A through F letter grades to all Maine K-12 schools ( PPH, BDN, MPBN, PDS). The PPH looked at the details of the grading system, the poverty correlation, and the impacts of similar systems in other states. The BDN looked at what happens next.

Reaction was very negative from the PPH editors, the BDN editors, the LSJ editors, the BDN editors again, and Bill Nemitz. Bill Webster focused on fixing the grading system, Amy Fried and Mike Tipping each looked at the poverty correlation, and Matt Gagnon wrote to defend the governor, if not the system. Reaction in our region was similarly negative, even from schools that got good grades ( PPH, Forecaster).

Elsewhere the administration chose HP over Apple for the next Maine Learning Technology Initiative drawing mixed reaction ( PPH, MPBN). Commissioner Steve Bowen discussed the decision on WGAN.

Jody Harris and Ned McCann wrote to support Head Start. The LSJ editors defended current charter school policy from Democrats’ attacks at the State House, while lawmakers looked for alternative ways to fund charter schools in the state budget ( PPH).

• Energy: CMP has begun a rate case to support reliability and better billing, but if the filing is successful rates would rise ( PPH) — the PPH editors looked for balance in the outcome.

• Environment: New mining regulations are under scrutiny at the state house ( PPH). A bill to assess a fee on paint to pay for waste paint disposal had a hearing last week ( PPH).

• Health Care: Anthem and MaineHealth are partnering on Accountable Care Organization products ( BDN). The BDN editors discussed high health care costs in Maine and Christy Roix Daggett urged revision of 2011 Republican health care reforms in Maine.

• Labor: The federal government is investigating the governor’s contacts with unemployment insurance case officers ( PPH, LSJ). Rep. Scott Hamann wrote in support of his bill to raise the minimum wage.

• Real estate: Maine’s housing recovery is continuing, but slowly, according to a national expert ( BDN).

• Tax: A party line vote to raise the state sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent moved LD 1141 forward, for now ( BDN).

• Transportation: A series of bills dealing with the proposed east-west highway had public hearings last week ( PPH, BDN, MPBN).

• Welfare reform: The Governor introduced a bill to limit the use of food stamps for junk food ( PPH) while Speaker Eves introduced a bill to facilitate welfare to work ( PPH).

Around the Region

Adam Zimmerman discussed opportunities to improve regional bus service by learning from Boston’s transit system.

• In Cape Elizabeth, the council finalized the combined municipal/school budget for next year ( Forecaster, Current).

• In Cumberland, June’s election slate for council and school board is set ( Forecaster).

• In Falmouth, the ballot is set for June council and school board elections ( Forecaster).

• In Portland, the City Council’s Finance Committee took up the proposed Portland school budget, looked for changes ( PPH, Forecaster), and finally decided to recommend a budget that assumes more state aid than the governor’s state budget proposes ( PPH). Elsewhere: Residential rental demand in Portland has spiked ( PPH). Businesses supported the new Congress Square Plaza proposal ( Forecaster). The city is working on a new marketing strategy ( PPH). Portland and Deering High School students participated in their first career expo organized by Jobs for Maine’s Graduates ( Forecaster). Mike Roylos at Spartan Grill started a grassroots cigarette butt clean-up program ( PPH).

For the latest, check out Chris O’Neil’s Inside City Hall. Chris serves as a consultant to the Portland Community Chamber, working closely with members and staff to represent the Chamber before Portland City officials. Inside City Hall covers a host of Portland related issues. It’s something that everyone with an interest in Portland affairs will want to read.

• In South Portland, the council is studying school budget data ( Forecaster). A forum on the future of the Mill Creek shopping district will be held this Thursday ( Forecaster).

• In Scarborough, the council accepted a revised municipal budget, and made cuts in the proposed school budget ( Forecaster).

• In Westbrook, a new fishway on the Presumpscot River was opened ( PPH, Current, MPBN).

Contact your local officials: Visit our website to find links to all your municipal and State House officials. Remember — if you don’t speak out, the people who represent you have no way of knowing what you think. So keep those email, calls and visits coming.

Digging Deeper at the State House: Most of you probably don’t want to find daily schedules at the State House, research copies of every piece of testimony submitted at every public hearing, track the status of a particular bill, find contact info for Committees, or House members, or Senators, or listen to public hearings on the computer, or watch selected state house proceedings on MPBN’s Capitol Connection. But if you do, just follow the links. The State House is increasingly accessible to the public, at least to those who put in a little work.

Back issues: Miss a policy update? Want to find that story or link that you lost track of? Just click here for recent back issues.

Feedback: What do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email to share your feedback with me — and thank you!

Partners for Progress Policy Updates from the Portland Regional Chamber are supported by generous contributions from our Partners for Progress. For more information about joining the Portland Regional Chamber just click here.

 

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/05/06/business/k-12-school-grades-a-missed-opportunity/ printed on November 26, 2014