Gov. Paul LePage’s recently released letter grades for Maine’s public schools rely on a faulty methodology that reveals little about actual educational performance. LePage’s system focuses narrowly on standardized test scores while turning a blind eye to so much that accounts for the learning that takes place in our schools. The result is a public shaming of schools without meaningful evaluation, direction or resources.
This is just one stark example of the administration’s misguided approach to public education. Instead of providing real, tangible solutions and implementing policies to support public education, the governor chooses a peanut-gallery approach of lobbing criticism without constructive ideas or resources.
We need real solutions in Maine, not just talk from the sidelines. The right vision for public education in Maine is one that understands its role in preparing students for greater success throughout their lives. The right vision recognizes that student learning is tied to innovation and productivity. The right vision is one that sees the connection between strong classrooms and strong communities. Education is truly the foundation of cultural and economic success.
Fortunately, with this in mind, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were able to come together this past session to make positives strides for public education.
We passed a bipartisan budget. It can’t be overstated just how hard lawmakers worked in light of the governor’s unprecedented failure to submit a supplemental budget proposal and his absence from the process. Education did not take a back seat in this budget. It invests in key education and workforce training programs, including $650,000 for the Bridge Year program, $300,000 in funding for Jobs for Maine’s Graduates and $750,000 for Head Start. These programs help students during the critical early years and help them acquire the skills they will need in the workforce or as they pursue higher education.
One successful education measure aims to make college more affordable by exploring innovative programs such as the “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” program. This approach allows students to forego paying tuition until they’ve secured a job after graduation. They would then pay a small percent of their income back to the schools.
This would not only dramatically increase college affordability but would also create a huge incentive for universities and colleges to provide their students with quality education so they can land good jobs after they graduate. In essence, it’s an acknowledgement of the trust students place in schools to prepare them for the job market.
By helping our students participate in higher education, we not only improve their chances to land a well-paying job, but also strengthen Maine’s workforce in the long term. The Legislature’s Education Committee has set up a task force to meet over the summer to look at several plans to address college affordability.
Another bill that would have helped students take advantage of digital learning opportunities through a state-run virtual academy was, unfortunately, vetoed by the governor. Virtual learning can be a great complement to face-to-face teaching and learning. Providing students with additional tools is smart policy, especially when you consider the growth in the digital area and how students would be able to connect with resources unavailable in their bricks-and-mortar school.
A state-run virtual academy would be free of profit motives and make meaningful education for Maine students its top priority. For-profit corporations that run virtual schools must consider the interests of their stakeholders, which could sacrifice quality education for profit’s sake. There’s also the question of limited resources. A single virtual charter school is estimated to take $3 million out of public education funding while serving only a small number of students.
Next year, I hope we can revisit this measure and other smart policies that were vetoed by Maine’s current chief executive. We need to move forward to support our students, our classrooms and our educators for the sake of Maine’s future. Let’s not lose focus of them.
Rep. Victoria Kornfield, a Democrat, is serving her first term in the Maine House of Representatives representing part of Bangor. A retired teacher, she serves on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.