Maine Democrats unveil school evaluation planBy GLENN ADAMS , Associated Press
May. 8, 2013 5:17 PM ET
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — As Democratic lawmakers trumpeted their plan Wednesday to evaluate Maine's public schools, Republican Gov. Paul LePage gave them an "incomplete" and suggested they focus, instead, on the state budget, a $484 million debt to Maine hospitals and other issues as their scheduled adjournment looms.
Democrats announced their alternative to LePage's A to F grading system that he outlined last week and that Democrats consider arbitrary and simplistic.
Still unfinished, their plan calls for assessing schools — but not grading them — based on variables including student progress over five years, attendance and graduation rates. Several bills are aimed at improving schools and assisting students.
"Putting students first means strengthening public education, not undermining and underfunding it," said Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, House chair of the Education Committee. "We should always be looking at what we can improve and how we can do better."
Sen. Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth, co-chair of the Education Committee who presented the Democratic plan with MacDonald, said the governor's plan "shames" and "stigmatizes" schools and students.
The governor suggested through a spokeswoman that Democrats were getting sidetracked.
"They get an I for incomplete, for not doing their homework and showing up late" with a plan, said LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett. "The Democrats really should be setting their sights on the budget and persuading leadership that there should be a vote on the hospital issue. These are the issues that should be paramount this late in the session."
House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport also urged Democrats to "get beyond the politics" and discuss what's best for schools and students.
"An 11th-hour piece of draft legislation is not what Maine schools need," Fredette said.
With the legislative session scheduled to adjourn June 19, hundreds of bills await final decisions.
LePage's $6.3 billion two-year budget, which includes the proposed suspension of revenue sharing, remains in committee; gun control bills await debate; a decision on the overhaul of Maine's tax code by lowering the income tax and raising sales taxes is pending; and the debt to hospitals for Medicaid services remains unresolved. The governor envisions paying the state's $186 million share of the debt with revenues from future liquor sales, an issue that also must be sorted out.
Democrats deflected questions Wednesday about how long they've been working on their proposal and rejected suggestions they are engaging in partisan squabbling when important issues are pending.
"We're not squabbling at all. This is a very high-stakes game," Millett said.
Amid the back and forth, the LePage administration pushed forward with its plan.
Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said the department is contacting every school that got a D or F to find out what the school needs to improve. He said that effort would begin immediately.