Legislature delivers educational mandates, but won't foot the bill

By Kathreen Harrison | Mar 05, 2015

The Legislature in Augusta passed LD 1422: Proficiency-Based Diplomas in May of 2012. This law requires students to demonstrate proficiency in all eight content areas of the Maine Learning Results in order to receive a high school diploma.

The eight content areas in which a student will be obliged to show proficiency are: Career and Education Development; English Language Arts; Health Education and Physical Education; Mathematics; Science and Technology; Social Studies; Visual and Performing Arts; World Languages.

The authors of the Maine Learning Results and the Legislature are to be congratulated on the depth and breadth of the content area knowledge they require Maine students to master. Our young people will be well prepared for college and life with these content areas under their belts.

Making it possible for all students to become proficient at the levels required in many of these subject areas – math, science, English language arts -- will demand professional development and a concerted reworking of the curriculum in some schools, but should not necessitate greater levels of staffing. Most schools already have full-time teachers in these areas.

Other content areas – the arts, languages, physical education – are generally greatly understaffed in Maine, with teachers carrying loads of hundreds of students, often in two or three (or more) different buildings. Students will not be able to achieve proficiency in these content areas without increases in staffing – the attention of teachers is spread way too thin, and no one child receives enough time with the subject matter to make the progress needed to achieve the levels intended by the law. If students do not reach proficiency they will not receive a high school diploma.

Increased staffing needs translates to more money. Where is that money going to come from? With the state essentially flat-funding K-12 education, while basic costs necessarily rise with the cost of living, the only way a district can provide the staffing necessary to even maintain the inadequate staffing they currently have, let alone increase it now that there are new requirements, is to cover the cost of increased personnel by raising local taxes. Yet many local taxpayers can’t afford to have their taxes raised.

The people of the state of Maine value their education system and want the best for their children. The Legislature knows this, and passed LD 1422. Now the Legislature must provide school districts with the funding needed to pay for the mandates it has passed. If it fails to fund the mandates, one of three things is bound to happen – either hordes of students will annually stay in school past their 12th-grade year to continue working toward proficiency; schools will cheat and pass students even when they fail to make the grade; or the Legislature will end up repealing the law. Each of these outcomes would be costly in its own way – either by wasting money or the potential of a generation.

Let your legislators know that they must pass a budget that includes funding for school districts to implement the educational mandates they has passed.

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