GOP Gubernatorial Candidates on How to Fix Maine Schools


What appears to be the last statewide debate between the seven Republican candidates for Governor took place last night, and was broadcast live on WMTW. (The debate is available for viewing on WMTW’s website).

The second question put to the candidates had to do with how they would improve Maine’s K-12 school system. The candidates have, of course, talked about education reform extensively already, including answering a series of detailed questions on the topic from blogger Derek Viger, but the vote is next week, and this is likely the last chance these candidates will have to speak to a statewide audience about what they would do to make Maine’s schools better.

What did they say?

Steve Abbott led off the responses by suggesting that there was too much administrative overhead in the state’s K-12 system, and insisted that we need to work on improving the efficiency of the entire system. He also spoke about the importance of expanding programs that are working for Maine’s students, such as the Jobs for Maine Graduates program, which he mentioned specifically.

Bill Beardsley led off his response with a criticism of the state’s special education programs, suggesting that Maine’s high level of special education enrollment is driving up costs. He also mentioned the need for more preschool programs for Maine students, the need to ensure that teachers spend more time teaching and less time doing paperwork, and the need to use merit pay programs to support teacher excellence.

Matt Jacobson talked about “measuring the right things,” arguing that the state needs to better align its entire Pre-K to college education program to meet the state’s workforce needs.

Paul LePage mentioned a long list of needed reforms, including tightening special education eligibility, instituting performance measures for teachers, supporting homeschooling and charter schools, and dealing with the high level of standardized testing that goes on in schools today.

Peter Mills argued in favor of using so-called “adaptive” testing, which more efficiently and effectively assesses student and school performance growth, and  also pushed for reforms of Maine’s special education laws, which he suggested he had worked on during his time in the legislature.

Les Otten talked about the need for early childhood education and suggested that schools need to be more “community based.” He also mentioned the Project Opportunity program that he helped start in Bethel.

Bruce Poliquin reiterated the need for education reform, but reminded the audience that Maine is “broke.” What to do in a state that is broke? According to Poliquin, cut “administrative overhead” and adopt innovative reforms like charter schools and merit pay for teachers.

In summary, nothing too earth-shattering from the GOP candidates, but seemingly a good deal of consensus around finding money in administrative savings and special education reform in order to fund more work in early childhood education and to support reform approaches such as charter schools and merit pay for teachers.

The Democratic candidates for governor will appear on WMTW tonight.