May 23, 2018
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Strengthening the schools Maine already has

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Maine Senate Assistant Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash
By Troy Jackson, Special to the BDN

Democrats believe that educating our next generation is a top priority. Classrooms need to be the best learning environments they can be because education is the best economic equalizer we have. It can provide every child an opportunity to succeed.

The classroom nurtures our next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. We need a comprehensive approach to education: one that acknowledges and strengthens early childhood efforts, one that considers a variety of learning models like standards-based education, one that ensures the health and nutrition of our students, and one that prepares our students today for the jobs of tomorrow by focusing on science, technology, engineering and math.

Charter schools cap

The governor’s proposal to expand charter schools is out of touch with Maine people. We haven’t hit the cap yet, so it seems premature to talk about expanding the cap. What’s the rush?

However, in the 125th Legislature, charter schools were approved. Now it’s our job to make sure that we ensure that charters are done properly. We support the approach of the Maine Charter School Commission. We need a careful and thoughtful review or charter schools coming into our state.

School choice

School choice is a catchy phrase and an idea that sounds good but is hurtful in practice. Inevitably, families with greater financial means are the ones more likely to move their children out of their local public school, creating a scenario where a disproportionate share of students from poorer families and those with special needs remain in the local public school.

The quality of our schools should not vary by zip code. Schools are stronger when education is an equalizer, and I believe that we are better off making improvements to the schools we have, rather than diluting their resources.

Religious schools

We should be strengthening and supporting our public schools, our teachers and our students, not siphoning money away from them. When money is diverted from public schools to fund charter schools and religious schools, it hurts our communities, and it hurts our kids.

The state has yet to fulfill its commitment to fully fund public education per the will of the people. We shouldn’t be diverting scarce resources from public schools to charter schools, or religious schools.

In short, taxpayer money should not be used for private, for-profit or religious schools.

Plans for academic achievement

We want the classroom to be the best learning environment it can be. That means supporting early education and strengthening our public schools, not undercutting them or our teachers. Year after year, teachers — the stewards of our classrooms — are being asked to do more with less. It is unfair and unrealistic to think that teachers can do more or better with fewer resources. Academic achievement begins with having the best teachers shepherding our students through their learning.

Last week, my colleagues on the Education Committee announced a new proposal to evaluate our schools — one that does not include flawed letter grades. The proposal would develop a fair evaluation system that involves education stakeholders and is based on student progress and local improvement measures, not standardized test scores. The system would also include a process for peer group comparisons based on characteristics like special education, free and reduced price lunch, and English language learners.

We want our school evaluation system to show our schools’ strengths and weaknesses, and how to improve. Unlike the governor’s system, we don’t want to shame them with letter grades that are based on a snapshot in time, and a better assessment of poverty levels than educational performance.

We’ve also introduced several other bills, including measures aimed at improving and strengthening our early childhood education. Studies show that early education is vital to children’s future success: It reduces dropout rates, crime and incarceration, to name a few.

Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is assistant Senate majority leader. His columns appear monthly.

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