Democrats Unveil Counter-Proposal To LePage A-F School Grading System 

Last week, Governor LePage introduced his A-to-F grading system for public schools.After relentless criticism of the LePage plan, the Democrats have unveiled their plan to evaluate schools.At a state house press conference Wednesday, Democrats once again ripped the governor’s education policies, accusing him of insulting teachers and pitting poorer rural districts against more affluent districts.”Perhaps the biggest scorn to our students, teachers and schools came when he branded our schools with what many are calling a scarlet letter. His A-F grading system is flawed,” said Senator Rebecca Millett, a Cumberland County Democrat.The Democratic leaders of the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs unveiled their party’s school evaluation plan they say is still being fine tuned.Under the Democrats’ plan, schools would be evaluated by a stakeholder group based on a dozen criteria like student progress. The Democrats evaluation would not be based on a bell-curve or standardized test scores. The evaluation would also include peer group comparisons, looking at characteristics like special education, and free and reduced price lunch.”It will be based on student progress not a snapshot in time like standardized tests,” Millett told reporters at press conference Wednesday afternoon.The House Chair on the Education Committee, Representative Bruce Macdonald, says this is a better option to the governor’s A-F plan and makes Maine schools and classrooms the best learning environments they can be for our students. “‘Putting students first means strengthening public education, not undermining and underfunding it. We should always be looking at what we can improve and how we can do better,” Macdonald told reporters. Democrats were repeatedly asked when they came up with this plan, and how long they have been working on it, but refused to answer the questions, which led to some testy exchanges with reporters.The dodging of those questions by Macdonald in particular did not go unnoticed by Republican leaders who also say they want an answer. “I think that’s a legitimate question as to when this process really began for Democrats to roll out this concept,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette. “This is not an issue we should be playing politics with. We’re playing politics with our childrens’ future and that’s not something to play politics with.”Republicans called the plan “11th hour” and “reactionary” while some in the room accused the Democrats of feeding an ongoing political squabble over education. “I don’t feel this is squabbling at all. I think this has become a very high stakes game,” Millett said. “The governor rolled out a system that is labeling schools as failing or close to failing and there’s some serious repercussions that result of that.”Under the governor’s A-F grading system $3 million would be earmarked for schools that scored a D or an F. Approval for that funding is is in the hands of the legislature. Democrats on the education committee have already said they won’t support that funding. “The majority of the education committee voted not to include that because there’s no language whatsoever that explains how that money was going to be used. As a majority of the committee we felt that was not a basis to approve millions of dollars of taxpayer money,” Millett said, explaining why Democrats won’t support the $3 million for underachieving schools. Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen says most of that money would go to things like professional reading coaches and other needs for struggling districts.”It’s going to go out the door to those districts,” Bowen told reporters Wednesday. “Maybe they need reading coaches. Maybe they need professional development or those kinds of things. That was the intent of those resources. Those resources were going out the door to schools.” Bowen was asked what he would do if that $3 million is not approved. “We’re going to come to work each day and do the best we can.”