Maine Legislative Leadership Deserves Detentions for Education Policies

4/3/18, by Mark Andrews

The Maine Senate has killed a bill aimed at restoring vocational and life-skill studies in the classroom.

LD 1860, “An Act To Prepare All Students for Work and Life by Requiring that Students Receive Instruction in Vocational Preparation and Practical Life Skills,” has been sent to the legislative trash bin. The Vocational Prep Bill would have re-emphasized necessary skills which have fallen out of favor recently in our schools.

The bill recognized elimination of programs like industrial arts and home economics as a huge mistake. Maine has a new generation of students who haven’t been taught to make simple home repairs or balance a checkbook. And we have skilled trades desperate for workers, with an education system ignoring the demand.

Had it passed, the Department of Education would have been required to focus on more hands-on learning and work-study programs. Students would have been scored in areas like:  planning, communication, problem-solving, computer applications, and practical workplace skills and home economics.

However, these needed changes will have to wait until next legislative session, as the Senate leadership placed the bill in the legislative file — which means the bill is now dead.

Meanwhile, another bill aiming to restore shop and home economics in Maine classrooms appears to have been sent to the corner for a timeout.

LD 1843, “An Act To Amend Career and Technical Education Statutes,” would revamp the formula for state funding for Career and Technical Education. If passed, the state would be on the hook for 100% of funding, alleviating the local burden for the cost of programs like shop and home economics. This would level the playing field for rural school districts that historically can’t afford to launch new programs.

Unfortunately, there has been no action on this piece of legislation in either body since February 22nd, when the bill was sent to the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.

Democrat politicians, funded by teachers’ unions, have spent years implementing regulations ensuring students receive proficiency participation trophies, doing away with the tried-and-true A-F grading system, and removing classes like shop and home economics.

This trend goes against reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggesting demand for skilled trades are in demand and growing. In fact, projects show growth in demand through 2024.

So-called, “proficiency-based education” was originally supposed to be implemented statewide by this current school year. However, there have been a series of delays as the Department of Education struggles to figure out the implementation of the arbitrary grading system.

Yet another stop-gap measure has been introduced this legislative session. LD 1666, “An Act To Ensure the Successful Implementation of Proficiency-based Diplomas by Extending the Timeline for Phasing in Their Implementation” would delay implementation of the failed system by yet another year.

Parents and students don’t understand the 1-4 proficiency ratings. And there are widespread fears the irregular and arbitrary system will hurt Maine students’ chances of being accepted to top universities.

However, Freshman Republican Rep. Heidi Sampson of Alfred, has introduced an amendment to the bill that would repeal proficiency-based education altogether.

“The Legislature should repeal the entire proficiency-based diploma law, which would return the decision-making process to the local school districts,” Rep. Sampson wrote in a Portland Press Herald opinion piece.

If Rep. Sampson’s amendment is passed, it will mark a return of the traditional 1-100 grading scale.

What Sampson’s repeal of the proficiency-based diploma law and bills LD 1860, and LD 1843 have in common is a return of power to the local school districts, allowing them to grade with actual scores, and teach students practical skills that may actually aid them in finding gainful employment or running their household.

Unfortunately, legislative “leadership” inaction on increasing vocational and technical skills for Maine students, puts the future of Rep. Sampson’s common sense amendment very much in doubt with just weeks remaining in the legislative session.