Stakeholder Group Recommendations

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen asked members of the School Choice Work Group to make individual recommendations regarding what information the Maine DOE should submit to the Legislature in January. Based on the input, the group decided it would not be beneficial for them to meet again. Commissioner Bowen will make recommendations to the Legislature accordingly. You may read input from group members below.

Input from Matthew Hoidal, Camp Sunshine

For the record, I do not represent my employer or any association. My input is strictly from me, as a parent of children in the Maine school system.

I originally came into this group hungry to learn from experienced leaders and educators. I have learned much, and my views on choice have become even stronger as a result of these interactions.

Throughout our meetings we heard a lot about school budgets, local taxes, etc. I didn't hear much about "best interests of the student." When these "best interests" were discussed, conversations tended to steer toward budgets and $.

I believe very strongly that parents are the ultimate arbiters on deciding what's in the best interests of their children. Accordingly, I feel a universal voucher model where the money flows directly to the families to be spent on public or private school of their choosing, is the best option.

Ideally, if transportation could be addressed, I'm in favor of making sure it's provided and covered for children. Schools should be flexible on transporting from outside of their boundaries, to the extent their budgets permit. Perhaps the state establishes a transportation fund based on financial need in cases where schools exceed their budgeted capacities for transportation. Ultimately, however, I would not want any lack of transportation funding to prevent broader school choice.

Finally, I am sensitive to school budgets, especially since it seems to be the main reason for opposition to choice. So perhaps schools are given the latitude to set limits on how many can transfer in and out.

Again, I apologize for my delay. Thank you for compiling this information, and thanks to everyone for giving this serious attention. I sincerely hope that we (parents) are given the opportunity to choose what's best for our children.

 

Input from Jackie Perry, Maine School Boards Association

 

Factors to consider

Stakeholder Group Recommendations

Basic concept of model?

Supt. Agreements; Regional Agreements; Expansion of offerings (academic) at Regional Tech Schools; Expansion of on-line courses taught by currently employed teachers; Districts “pooling” money to pay for  “a teacher” for either on-line or at a Regional Tech for a low enrollment course i.e German, Russian, etc

Which students would be eligible for choice options?

 Choice options are more readily available to high school students. With the advances of technology, choice may be available to all students.

What choice options would be available to students? (which schools, etc.)

See all of the above.

Who would ultimately decide whether a student can attend the chosen school at public expense?

Current Law. Current and future Supt. and District Agreements.
Parents and Court Placement.

How will the funding of the student’s education be handled, (who pays, how much do they pay and when and to whom do they pay it?)

The funding is in place. The choices mentioned are funded locally – including State Allocation. It would be appropriate if money was made available to provide education for teachers in the delivery of on-line courses.

Who will be responsible, financially and programmatically, for required special education services?

As outlined above, Local District

Who will be responsible for providing transportation? Will there be any limits on transportation (mileage, etc.)

As outlined above, Local District

Other elements of this choice concept?

Public Schools currently provide a variety of choices for students. Enhance what we have and continue to upgrade delivery of curriculum where necessary.
Private schools select whom they wish to enroll and do not have to deal with all students and the accompanying distractions inherent in the public school environment. Nor do private schools have to deal with all the State rules and regulations – thus the designation “PRIVATE”. Let us work to enhance teaching and learning in our Public School.

 

Input from Michael Thurston, Maine Education Association

Expansion of school choice as proposed by the Governor in the last legislative session will not serve to improve Maine’s public school system.  Maine’s communities are built around the schools, families, local businesses, and many other components woven together with a tradition of local town governance.   At the heart of Maine’s communities and towns are public schools.  State-imposed decisions for “school choice” were not well received in the last legislative session, and will be even less favored in the new legislature.

Maine parents already have choices.  Parents can choose the local public school or a nearby pubic school through Superintendents’ Agreements.  Parents also have the choice of moving to another school district, paying tuition, or homeschooling their child.  The issue in not whether parents have choices – it’s about who pays for their choices.
Parents in Maine do have taxpayer-funded options.  Superintendents’ Agreements sometimes require difficult local decisions, but that doesn’t mean the process is not working for Maine families.  Superintendents’ Agreements insure that both the sending and receiving school departments make local decisions.  Many families in Maine have taken advantage of this form of public school choice.  In addition, legislation during the last session (LD 1854) made it easier for school administrative units to adopt mutual agreements for transfer of students.  The next step should be to encourage school districts to take advantage of these agreements.  Local SAUs now have a mechanism for inter-district choice possibilities, if local communities want to participate.

State-imposed school choice models contradict Maine’s long tradition of local control. Let’s get on with the work of helping Maine’s public schools continue to serve Maine’s communities.  Let’s make sure the state pays its share of funding so that our public schools have the resources needed to provide great opportunities for Maine’s public school students.  Let’s continue the focus on best practices for teachers and principals.  Supporting Maine’s public schools is good for Maine students.  Expanding taxpayer funded choice options is not.

 

Input from Katy Grondin & Kevin Jordan, Maine School Superintendents Association

Basic concept of model: choice options should be decided by mutual agreement, whether they be agreements with the so-called 60 percent tuition schools; superintendent agreements between two superintendents; and, regional agreements between two or more school boards allowing for inter-district choice. In all of the above mentioned cases, parents and taxpayers are represented on a local school board and therefore have a voice in the decision-making process.

Which students would be eligible for choice options: Those students whose school districts make those choices available through a mutual agreement between the sending and receiving schools.

What choice options would be available to students? Those created through mutual agreement as outlined in #1.

Who would ultimately decide whether a student can attend the chosen school at public expense? The school district - via school board regional agreement or superintendent agreements - and the parents. The ultimate decision will be outlined in a school board regional agreement and in the current law regarding superintendents' agreements, the two district's
must agree. Denial of a superintendent agreement at the local level can be appealed to the Commissioner of Education.

How will the funding of the student's education be handled? In the case of a tuition school, the sending school pays tuition; under superintendent agreements, the student count and the commensurate state funding goes to the receiving school and the local taxpayers of the receiving school fund the rest. Under regional school board agreements, funding would most likely have to be worked out based on whether a student simply attends another school outside the district, or selects certain course options outside the district.

Who will be responsible financially and programmatically for required special education services?  The receiving school unless special education is provided for by another entity by mutual agreement

Who will be responsible for providing transportation? The general practice is the parent will provide transportation. However, a district may provide transportation depending on the circumstances and mutual agreement between parties.

Other elements of this choice concept?

Public Schools currently provide a variety of choices for students. Enhance what we have and continue to upgrade delivery of curriculum where necessary.

Currently, the general rule is that residence is the basis for where students attend school.

 

Input from Heidi Sampson, Maine State Board of Education

The importance and desire on the part of parents to have School Choice seems to be an issue the “educational professionals” have a significant struggle grasping, or even acknowledging for that matter.  I believe the evidence could be overwhelming if we opened up this discussion. Aside from the financial aspect I do feel this is another key component to this topic.  Parents need to be allowed to reclaim the authority and autonomy for their child’s education.  It’s a fact they do inherently know what’s best for their children!  Parents have been marginalized, demonized, disenfranchised and backed into a corner.  It’s no wonder they react with utter apathy for the most part. They are put into a defensive posture, so it’s no wonder the negative reactions are expressed. Once they are given choice, parents will begin to take back what is rightfully theirs.  They will become more engaged participants in their child’s learning.  As you know, there is overwhelming evidence that with even the slightest increase in a parent’s involvement, a child’s learning improves noticeably.  In many cases, the child is merely reflecting the parent’s apathy.  If parents demonstrate little interest in a child’s education, the child will reflect that same attitude in their studies.

As I mentioned in the last meeting, based on the numbers you presented to us, approximately 15% of the children are currently exercising some aspect of School Choice.  In any case, if the education establishment truly believes in ‘the best interest of children’ they should sit up and take notice if we have over 15% already desiring choice. Those are people who are very pro-active and searching for alternatives.  That’s a low percentage of people in general.  ‘The best interest of a child’ should be seriously examined! In all reality it is merely used as an escape clause, tossed about like a placebo to manipulate the discussion thereby maintaining the chokehold they have on a degenerating system.  I know I could get a vast number of articulate letters from parents expressing their desire not just to homeschool, but to have school choice. 

Here are my very conservative (more realistic) recommendations for LD 1854 Choice Model Components:

  • Basic concept of model?
    • Open up Superintendent agreements - make them public! This would not require a change in the law…just some public information blasts.
    • Open enrollment state wide – if the former is executed, then maybe schools would be more willing to embrace this concept - parents should be left to determine ‘best interest’.  Will some make unwise decisions?  Yes, but do we eliminate the option just because a few may misuse this?  The vast majority would not – education is a highly valued commodity.
  • What choice options would be available to students?
    • Public School of Choice including Private/Public (i.e. Thornton Academy) or Charter Schools
    • A pipe dream would be to access private schools as well.
  • Who would ultimately decide whether a student can attend the chosen school at public expense?
    • The parent and student! 

I’m waiting for research about parents becoming more engaged as they are given choice. (There’s some significant studies done on poor inner city families, especially in DC)  At this point in time, parent’s hands are tied.  The schools have disenfranchised them, belittled and marginalized them.  Naturally, parents will become frustrated, bewildered and simply give up, with a sense of hopelessness.  What else can they do?  However, I personally have seen this and apparently in the DC area there is overwhelming evidence of even the poorest of families becoming more engaged and involved with their children’s education when they have a choice to make.  This is a simple matter of human nature – give them a choice and then they become more engaged in the process.  (A real trick to working with Youngsters, especially teenagers) There is also evidence that students improve significantly within a year if a parent is even slightly involved.

  • How will the funding of the student’s education be handled? (who pays, how much do they pay and when and to whom do they pay it)
    • Have it work exactly like the towns that have to pay tuition to schools of their choice if their town does not have a High School.  The state allocation would follow the child a year later.  If this system already works in many of Maine’s towns…make it available across the state!
  • Who will be responsible, financially and programmatically, for required special education services?
    • The short answer: Parents should negotiate with the school they would like their child to attend.  Town allocation would follow the student and once expenses for the school are determined, the state finances can accommodate that.  There needs to be more control on the finances of these programs, which leads to my next thought…
    • This whole issue of special education is really an amazing financial milking machine.  I know of more examples where IEP’s are not honored and the parents have little to no recourse of action.  The Professional Experts “know more than the parent”.  Where do these parents go when their children are actually mistreated and not having the needed serviced provided?  The money has been allocated, but it’s not being utilized in these cases. There are gross examples of misuse and justifying positions within schools. Yet all we hear from these ‘professionals’ is how we all have to bow to the all-important, imperative IEP with no questions even entertained.  There has been such a culture of corruption created through this. Intimidation is the name of the game and parents are left exasperated and helpless without recourse.  School choice would certainly pop the bubble of this overinflated sense of value. Parents should be able to have a voice in the financial management – an accountability system in both directions.
    • Where is the accountability?  So much money is allocated for a child with ‘special needs’, schools certainly don’t want to lose their funds and need to be challenged as to how they allocate their funds.  Schools push hard to get a child ‘labeled’ then getting an IEP in place ensures mandated finances. I experienced this over 20 years ago. (In all reality I had an extremely bright, incredibly creative, non-conventional learner – labels and medication would have destroyed him!!!!)  Each town has to provide an allotment for a child in their district, parents should be allowed to utilize those funds in the best way they deem beneficial.  This could mean another school, or hiring private contractors for very specific tasks.  Negotiating contracts could bring the costs down considerably and parents could determine if the contract is being honored.
    • Any State funding that would follow that child should be allocated to the same general fund that parents, along with the school they contract with, can manage it.  Put parents more in control.  If the parent is the one who can allocate the monies, schools will be more motivated to provide their services honorably, knowing they could be ‘fired’, if they don’t perform with diligence.  (A little free market thinking here…it’s been known to work before!)
  • Who would be responsible for providing transportation?
    • Parents can have the option – they may choose to transport for themselves if they decide to access a school a few districts away.
    • For more local districts, allow a child to meet at local meeting place to be picked up by a bus going to designated school of choice.
    • Bring the child to the local school, with provided bus transportation. If it applies, the student will take the CTE bus to their school of choice.
  • Other elements of this choice concept?
    • Open up more CTE options for students.  Examine the CTE’s who have waiting lists and see what can be done to facilitate more student accessibility.
    • Increase the Charter School limit
    • Creative innovations to intercept those students who become dis-engaged in their leaning and could be headed toward dropping out of school….get them involved in real life scenarios that have validity and actually matter!  Engage the private sector for this!
    • Increase Virtual school options – through public schools and Charter Schools.

 

Input from Wanda Lincoln, Eat Well Nutrition Education Program

Factors to consider

Stakeholder Group Recommendations

  • Basic concept of model?
  • To allow  “governing bodies” of public and privates schools receiving public funds to decide if their schools would become “open enrollment” schools for the purposes of allowing their students to transfer out and other “open enrollment” school students to transfer in

I support this basic concept because I believe there are significant differences among the various school districts in Maine and further support the importance of local decision making related to education

 

  • Which students would be eligible for choice options?
  • All students should be eligible for participation in transferring from and to “open enrollment” schools

I support this concept . . . with the caveat that the “governing bodies” of the schools will set specific guidelines re. to how many students can transfer from and to their schools, etc.

I’m concerned that all “governing bodies” will not be using the same process to determine these guidelines . . . but have confidence that local determination is still the best way to go.

  • What choice options would be available to students? (which schools, etc.)

I would suggest that a maximum distance requirement be included in “governing bodies’” guidelines so that a student from, say, Caribou does not want to transfer to Cape Elizabeth.  A 50-mile radius of the school the student’s wishes to transfer from might be a good suggestion to consider.

I have mixed feelings about students transferring from one elementary school to another. 
I think it would be best to restrict open enrollment to 9th grade and above . . . at least in the initial stages of open enrollment.

  • Who would ultimately decide whether a student can attend the chosen school at public expense?

If a student meets the guidelines established by the “governing bodies” of both from and to schools, the decision has already been made.  Hopefully, there will be some sort of random drawing to choose from all students who want to participate in “open enrollment.”

  • How will the funding of the student’s education be handled, (who pays, how much do they pay and when and to whom do they pay it?)

I support the concept of the funding following the student but realize that this continues to be a major obstacle to school choice.

 

  • Who will be responsible, financially and programmatically, for required special education services?

I’m sure this is also a contentious issue . . . given the mandates for special ed services and the high cost attached to individual students requiring such services.  One thing we do not want to be an “unintended consequence” of open enrollment is that the schools with the best special ed services will be asked to pay additional costs of any special ed students that transfer in to their schools.

I would think there could be “transition funding” while the open enrollment program is being implemented. 

  • Who will be responsible for providing transportation? Will there be any limits on transportation (mileage, etc.)

If there are limits on miles, I think this issue could be decided between the two schools.

Also, there may be a way to negotiate with the area vocational schools for transportation as was suggested by one of the committee members on several occasions.

  • Other elements of this choice concept?

I appreciate the fact that our stakeholder group included representatives MEA, superintendent, principal and school boards.  However, I have felt from the first meeting, that there was no openness by some of these folks to even discuss school choice (other than superintendent agreements) as an option for Maine.  With over 40 states offering a variety of models (open enrollment, vouchers, charter schools, choice, magnet schools, virtual schools), Maine is really behind the 8 ball, in my opinion, in meeting the educational needs of students and parents.

As a former teacher and union member myself, I understand that teachers and unions feel threatened by the possibility that THEIR school may lose students and they won’t be able to stop them. 

Hopefully, the legislature will be able to have a legitimate discussion about LD 1854 and see that “open enrollment” is not a threat to our public school system but a real option that deserves to be explored.

 

Input from Polly Crowell, Special Education, Falmouth School Department

Factors to consider

Stakeholder Group Recommendations

Basic concept of model?

Creating more options for non-residents and students who are residents who might seek another option outside of the home district should be a local board decision. The models will likely vary significantly depending upon the demographics of the town and region. The DoE would encourage every local community to have the discussion and debate around increasing quality educational options for all students and how they could contribute to that effort. ?The state may want to assist the towns in providing information and some structure around having such informed community discussions.

Which students would be eligible for choice options?

No student would be excluded because of ?any type of civil rights discrimination. The programs which local boards choose to open to non residents could be based upon an number of characteristics of the student who applies. That must be predetermined well before the program is offered outside of the local district. ?

What choice options would be available to students? (which schools, etc.)

A wide range of educational opportunities could be developed over time. The communities will have to decide how they would contribute to and access the new opportunities created by a concerted statewide effort to be more flexible and creative in expanding educational options.

Who would ultimately decide whether a student can attend the chosen school at public expense?

The local school board would set the parameters of the open program and the principal and superintendent would determine if ?the student would meet the basic description of students for who the program is designed.

How will the funding of the student?s education be handled, (who pays, how much do they pay and when and to whom do they pay it?)

The state must meet its responsibilities toward all students. ?Each local district will have to be knowledgeable of the pros and cons of its decision to make any of its classes, schools. grades etc open to non-resident ?students. ?This cannot be a one size fits all effort to increase opportunities across the state. ?It will take a great deal of insight and deliberation amongst many school communities in order to create a more flexible and agile state system.

Who will be responsible, financially and programmatically, for required special education services?

It will likely be best to keep the home district as the one responsible for the special education programming and oversight. ?There could be exceptions to this given geographical issues or family issues which would make the school where the student attends the better responsible agency. ?Again, once size fits all cannot always serve every situation in the best way. ?The state should be able to write and uphold legislation which would allow for this. Local districts in any case should not be punished by being the more appropriate program for students. ?The state must recognize that promoting more options can cause more expense.

Who will be responsible for providing transportation? Will there be any limits on transportation (mileage, etc.)

This is were the local districts and the DoE must work things out. ?The state should not expect the receiving school to bear additional costs for taking on non-resident students. There may be ways to compensate the local receiving schools or to have various other students who leave their home district balance the expences for both sides.

Other elements of this choice concept?

The ?DoE could be the necessary match under this much larger and potentially very positive fire. ?Change the concept of ?parent choice to the project of increasing ?and widening educational opportunities across the state. ? The DoE may have to offer some incentives and do some good PR to show the general public how such an effort could be

 

Input from Amanda Clark, Maine Heritage Policy Center

Basic concept of model?

Universal school vouchers: parents are provided with vouchers to attend any school of their choosing.

Which students would be eligible for choice options?

All students would be eligible for choice options.

What choice options would be available to students?

Public and private schools would be the choice options available to students.

Who would ultimately decide whether a student can attend the chosen school at public expense?

Parents/families decide whether a student can attend the chosen school at public expense.

How will the funding of the student's education be handled?

Funding follows student from residing district to school of choice. If private school is chosen and tuition is greater than amount which follows the student, parents make up the difference.

Who will be responsible, financially and programmatically, for required special education services?

A special education student's residing district is responsible to send that particular student's funding in its entirety to the receiving school. Receiving school is programmatically responsible. If chosen school and affiliated special education program require more funding than allottment provided by sending district, parents make up the difference.

Who will be responsible for providing transportation? Will there be any limits on transportation?

Parents (potentially use part of voucher toward cost of fuel, public transportation, car-pooling, etc.). School buses could still run within districts to a certain degree.

Other elements of this choice concept?

With this model, students are less likely to be trapped in failing schools and are most likely to have a chance at finding a school that best meets their individual needs.

 

Input from Tim Walton, Cianbro

Many thanks to all involved for assembling this group. I feel privileged to have served and am very appreciative for the opportunity. I truly enjoyed the dialogue and learned a great deal from my fellow participants. It was obvious to me from the very first meeting, although there were many different opinions and approaches in the room on how to tackle the issue at hand, that all the participants, in their own way, cared about education.

As to my participation with this working group, for the record, I want to be clear that I was not representing my employer or any association. My input was strictly from me, as a parent, taxpayer and one who has a strong interest in Maine?s education system.

With regards to choice, my view is very simple; the parent should be the ultimate decider or authority, if you will, on what is best for their child. Not to say school administrators or caring, effective educators aren't qualified to offer opinions, perspectives or even guidance in how a child should be educated, in fact in many cases I strongly believe they should and obviously already routinely do, but, with that said, I honestly believe the respective parent or guardian should have the final say in decisions regarding their child?s education.

I staunchly believe in education, and I also believe that it can be delivered in a variety of ways. I am a (proud) product of Maine?s traditional public school system, as is my wife and our children. We are very supportive of our local public schools and firmly believe this traditional system has been a very good path for our family. With that said, I also firmly believe that for many families some of the constraints of this system have not worked best for them and thus has not been the best educational option for their children. In my opinion, expanding school choice options for all Maine students would prove highly successful for everyone involved. We simply shouldn?t be frightened by change, certainly not when it comes to expanding choice in education.

With regards to another meeting; although I am certainly willing to get together again, considering the make-up of the group and the interactions of previous meetings, at this point I cannot imagine an outcome that would be either collaborative or useful to the cause. With that said, I will leave the decision to you.

Again, thanks for all you did to keep this group together and your many attempts to produce an outcome worthy of the spirit of good public policy. Although I pride myself on being a very positive person, I must say, I doubt very much that school choice will be a priority of the 126th Legislature. In my opinion, this is a huge loss for the parents and students of Maine.