AUGUSTA, Maine — After a last-minute amendment, members of the Maine Senate on Thursday went against their House counterparts and voted for a standards-based education bill.
LD 1422 was first discussed at length, amended considerably and then approved unanimously several weeks ago by the Education Committee. The measure directs the Department of Education to develop a plan that transitions all school districts to high school diplomas awarded based on a student’s demonstrated proficiency in all areas of assessment, not how long a student has been in school.
How districts move toward a standards-based diploma is up to them. Teachers can do what they have always done as long as their students meet proficiency goals. The bill would require implementation of a standards-based diploma by 2017, or 2020 if a waiver is granted, but would not necessarily provide funding to school districts to help meet that requirement.
In the last several days, support for the measures have wavered. Many were worried about the mandate stipulated in the bill, while others worried that it would not be funded. Some critics said the mandate aspect of the bill is reminiscent of former Gov. John Baldacci’s plan to force school districts to consolidate.
The amendment to LD 1422, offered by Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, removed the mandate and provided some funding for teaching training to address those concerns.
The Senate vote was 22-13.
The House had voted 76-67 on Wednesday to reject the bill — it needed a two-thirds majority to pass — but the amended version now goes back to the House, where it now only needs a simple majority.
The bill has the strong support of Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, who worked hard this week to convince lawmakers to support it.
The House debate on Thursday was long and fractious.
Rep. Dick Wagner, D-Lewiston, the lead Democrat on the Education Committee, was among those who supported the bill.
“This is a change for sure,” he said. “No change is pretty; no change is nice and neat. You can’t package this and put a bow on it. But we’ve got to get started somewhere.”
“I feel like it has come at the last minute; there is still a lot of controversy remaining,” said Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham. “All I ask is that we slow down. Sometimes the best action is no action.”
A similar debate followed in the Senate and, like the House debate, the bill divided Democrats and Republicans almost equally.
Follow BDN reporter Eric Russell on Twitter at @BDNPolitics