Education news roundup


It has been a few weeks since the last update on the education blog.  A few news stories of note:

  • Skip Greenlaw’s Maine Coalition to Save Schools submitted 61,142 signatures to repeal the school consolidation law, several thousand more than the 55,087 needed to put the issue before voters.  The Secretary of State’s office will be validating the signatures over the next few months, and there is the risk that the group may fall short.  Fed Up With Taxes, the group working to repeal the Dirigo Tax, collected more than 95,000 signatures for that initiative, but the Secretary of State’s office validated only 72,432. If Greenlaw’s group wasn’t any more careful than Fed Up With Taxes, they may fall short even with a 6000 signature buffer.  Stay tuned…
  • Just weeks after it was reported that the Maine Department of Education covered up news of abysmally poor scores on last year’s 8th grade MEA writing test, the Department has announced plans to cancel this spring’s 5th and 8th grade tests entirely, replacing them with a different test to be administered next fall.  Citing the high costs of the MEA writing test, which requires human, rather than machine scoring, the Department plans to replace the test with the New England Common Assessment Test, a joint project of three other New England states.  The Maine Heritage Policy Center will do a fuller analysis of this change in the weeks to come, but two initial thoughts spring to mind.  First, the good news is that using a common test will allow easier comparisons between the achievement of Maine’s schools and students and those of Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire, which also administer the test.  What I am wondering, though, is how well the NECAP test is matched against Maine’s learning standards.  We don’t want a situation where schools are teaching to Maine standards, only to have their students assessed against completely different standards.  The Department is claiming this move will save money, but is it good for students, teachers, and schools?
  • The KJ’s Matt Stone recently reported the findings of an interesting survey of school district consolidation committees.  It found a high degree of

    among regionalization planners, nearly half of whom anticipated their consolidation plans would be turned down by voters.  The planners cited a shortage of time to do community outreach and a lack of real budget savings from consolidation as reasons for likely opposition from voters.  We’ll find out soon enough.  According to the Department, 17 consolidation plans will go before voters on November 4th.

  •  The Department of Education is already warning districts to expect a state funding freeze for perhaps the next two years. As the Sun Journal reveals, state funding for schools is up about $250 million since 2005, and the school districts that appear to be in trouble are the ones that grew school spending as a result. Those that funneled the increased state funding into property tax relief, which is what voters demanded when they approved the 55% provision back in 2004, will be hit less hard – they simply didn’t grow their budgets as much.  No doubt more news on the budget will come when new revenue projections are done – after the election.
  • The presidential election, of course, will have a profound impact of federal education policy. We’ll report on what those impacts may be once we know for sure who will be running the show come January 20 of 2009.