Monthly Archives: January 2014

Testimony introducing bill clarifying terms for non-resident student transfers

Testimony of Rep. Brian Hubbell
LD 1591: An Act To Amend the Process Controlling the Transfer of a Student between School Administrative Units
Before the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs

Senator Millett, Representative MacDonald, and fellow distinguished members of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, I am Representative Brian Hubbell. I am here to introduce LD 1591: An Act To Amend the Process Controlling the Transfer of a Student between School Administrative Units.

As you will recall, last session, via LD 530, the Legislature amended the statute regarding school superintendents’ transfers of non-resident students. This change—which received an unanimous report from this Committee and was enacted under the hammer in the House and with unanimous roll call in the Senate—simply intended that superintendents document the reasons for their decisions regarding transfer requests in order to inform any subsequent process of appeals.

In our committee’s policy discussion, no one advocated altering the threshold for valid non-resident student transfers. The amended statute, therefore, deliberately retains the following permissive language: Two superintendents may approve the transfer of a student if the transfer is in the student’s best interest.

Unfortunately, following guidance issued by the Department of Education, some are now reading the amended statute as a requirement that all transfer requests must be approved unless superintendents can explicitly prove that such a transfer is not in the student’s best interest.

This interpretation represents an inconsistency between the long-established permissive language in the statute which allows certain flexibility in non-resident transfers based on specific circumstance and this new, much more stringent interpretation—which essentially requires a non-resident transfer or else a problematic proof of a negative.

Should this newer, inconsistent interpretation prevail, I am concerned that the result will weaken local support for community schools as resourceful parents increasingly request to transfer their children to schools funded by adjoining towns while tolerating inadequate local funding within their own tax jurisdictions. At the same time, receiving schools will face increasing burdens for the wholesale education of non-resident students at their own expense.

The long-term consequence would likely be an increase in inequality of educational opportunity for Maine students rather than overall improvement.

The bill before you today would clarify the original intent of this committee, and the Legislature, when it passed LD 530, in the first session. It would do so simply by striking the clause ‘that the transfer is not in the student’s best interest’ and thereby ensuring that superintendents have the authority to approve or deny a transfer request.

This, I believe, is the essential and necessary part of this bill.

Beyond that, if this committee finds it useful to ensure consistency in relation to the determination of students’ best interest, the bill provides a framework for the consideration of student needs.

A second, related provision proposes that if the transfer is denied and an appeal filed, this bill would require the Commissioner of Education to uphold the decision of the superintendents unless the commissioner determines that the decision to deny the transfer was ‘arbitrary and capricious’, a specific legal term of art, in which case the commissioner may overturn the denial and approve the transfer.

If the Commissioner of Education upholds the denial decision, an appeal may still be submitted to the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education must deny the transfer unless the board determines that the decision was arbitrary and capricious, in which case the board may approve the transfer.

A third provision in this bill, for the practical benefit of the State Board, extends the period of time they have to hear an appeal from 30 days to 45 days to avoid the necessity of scheduling a special meeting.

This issue of non-resident student transfers is a significant concern to many local school boards and their taxpayers. I strongly encourage you to join me in support of this legislation.

Legislative report: January 8 – 20, 2014

Wednesday, January 8

Your legislature’s second session opened today.  A large group including many local constituents rallied at the State House in favor of expanding access to health care for uninsured Mainers.by accepting federal funds for Medicaid.

Following on Picus Associates’ Independent Review of Maine’s Essential Programs and Services Funding Act, over the next two months our Committee will be dedicating two work sessions per week on a bill to improve Maine’s school funding model.

As we begin that work, I have outlined my own Priorities for improving Maine school funding

Related to one of the recommendations in the Picus report, I am also participating in a bipartisan subcommittee charged with formulating the Education Committee’s recommendation regarding income-based property tax relief to replace the ‘Circuit Breaker’ program which was gutted in last session’s budget negotiations.

Thursday, January 9

Our Committee had a working lunch presentation on early childhood education programs and funding.  This was followed by an afternoon work session at which we were briefed on a new report from MEPRI on the relationship between poverty and education.

Friday, January 10

Representative Kumiega and I offered our perspectives on this legislative session on Ron Beard’s public affairs program ‘Talk of the Towns’ on WERU.

Tuesday, January 14

Attended a Maine Development Foundation breakfast presentation updating legislators on the federal Affordable Care Act.

In our morning session, the House narrowly overrode the Governor’s veto of LD 1254 An Act To Increase Consumption of Maine Foods in All State Institutions but fell short in an effort to override the Governor’s veto of LD 963 An Act to Expand Access to Early Postsecondary Education.  The Governor has indicated that he supports the substance of this latter bill which received a unanimous report out of our committee and passed the legislature last session without controversy.  But his veto means that we will have to restart the process with a new round of hearings.

In the afternoon, our bipartisan education subcommittee met to flesh out a recommendation to use a concept bill, LD 369, to work jointly with the Taxation Committee to “improve the level of benefit to property taxpayers in the replacement ‘property tax fairness program’ at least equal to that of the ‘circuit breaker program’ a year ago.”

This parallels the intention of another bill, as yet unpublished, which I am cosponsoring with Speaker Eves.

Wednesday, January 15

In a morning work session, our committee amended LD 783, a bill I supported that proposed easing the voting requirements for municipalities to withdraw from recently reorganized school districts.  The amendment leaves in place the requirement of only a majority vote instead of a supermajority but retains a requirement for a minimum number of votes that must be cast in each community.  At the request of the bill’s sponsor, the committee also killed LD 1330 which sought another alternate pathway to teacher certification.  The committee tabled action on LD 1361 another teacher certification bill which seeks to require colleges to set proficiency standards in teaching programs and to require teachers to recertify competency in writing and mathematics.

After only the briefest discussion, our Committee unanimously approved LD 1579  a bill which makes it clear that service personnel, emergency workers, firemen, police, wardens, forest rangers, and the military are permitted to wear their respective uniforms when visiting schools.

Sawin Millett, the Governor’s finance chief, briefed the Appropriations Committee on what the Governor characterizes as a $119M shortfall in the budget.

Almost all of this figure is related to MaineCare but I was interested to follow up on the components of the $3M that was assigned to education.  It turns out that this figure represents goals for new spending that the Governor is re-proposing

  • $1.5M for industry certification of Career and Technical Education Centers
  • $1.0M for the second year of the high school to college Bridge Program
  • $450,000 for Jobs for Maine Graduates program for at-risk students

Thursday, January 16

Attended a legislative breakfast at which Maine’s Environmental Priorities Coalition outlined its priority bills for this session.  These include:

These last two bills I am cosponsoring.

During Thursday’s session, the House overwhelmingly overturned the Governor’s veto of LD 386, a bill expanding access to tobacco cessation programs, and then divided disappointingly along party lines and sustained the Governor’s veto of the ‘errors and omissions bill correcting what essentially are typographical errors in the budget.

In better news, the bill that I have been working on with Senator Langley, LD 1736 Resolve, To Create a State-run Virtual Academy Providing Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts was published and referred to our committee.  This promises a much more effective model for blending opportunities for virtual learning within Maine public schools rather than virtual charter schools operated by out-of-state private corporations.

After carrying it over for further consideration, on Thursday the Health and Human Services Committee reported out my bill, LD 535 ‘Ought Not To Pass.’  I proposed this bill to allow operators of full-care facilities like Bar Harbor’s Birch Bay Village to provide continuity of nursing services across different residential settings under a single license.  The HHS committee sympathized with my intention but had broader reservations about implications of quality assurance in facilities operated by larger corporate providers.

Also Thursday afternoon, as part of a statutory eight-year legislative review cycle, our Committee received a report from the Department of Education on their programs, organization, strategic goals and accomplishments.  This report is not yet online but the Committee has requested that the Department make this useful and informative document available.

We also received an update from the Department of Education on the implementation of the revised rules on restraint and seclusion that the committee approved last session.

Friday, January 17

With the Appropriations Committee, I attended a hearing on the so-called  Rosen Report from the administration’s Office of Policy and Management recommending budget reductions for the remainder of the current biennium.  We heard testimony from those opposed to cuts proposed to Maine Public Broadcasting and to Portland’s Welcome Center which assists refugees, many of whom arrive with valuable skills and advanced professional qualifications, with language training, networking, and professional referrals.  The Rosen Report also proposes cutting $9.5M from general purpose aid to education in the upcoming school budget cycle.

In the afternoon, I got a tour and had a brief meeting with administrators at the MDI Biological Laboratory to learn more about the Lab’s recent expansion and vision in becoming a leading education and research facility for regenerative biology and to discuss how the state might better partner with the organization in the future.

Monday, January 20

Senator Langley and I sat in with Linda Fuller’s ED117 Negotiating Education Policy class at College of the Atlantic and had an excellent round table discussion about our current work and trends in Maine education policy.  It was particularly interesting to hear from students from Belgium and the Czech Republic about what they admired about American education in comparison to their home country.

***

Last, I have had conversations with several constituents who have run into difficulty with home heating suppliers, particularly related to LP gas.

For those of you who may be facing extraordinary financial hardship for heating, I recommend contacting 211.maine.org either on the web or by dialing 211.

For those who may be having difficulty with particular suppliers, I recommend contacting the Maine Energy Marketers Association at (207) 729-5298.

Relationships Between School Poverty and Student Achievement in Maine

January 15, 2014

Dr. Silvernail,

Thanks for your presentation to our committee last Thursday on your invaluable report ‘The Relationships Between School Poverty and Student Achievement in Maine.’

In committee, we never seem to have enough time for deeper inquiry, so I’ve noted some things that have stuck with me in re-reading.  I hope at some point we can have further discussion along these lines.  In the meantime, I wanted to share my questions with you.

  • What evidence can give us confidence that standardized test scores have validity as measures of ‘achievement’ in relation to overcoming the disadvantages of poverty?  Or are we using those measures only because they are what we have?  Ought we also to be measuring supplementary things like engagement, extracurricular participation, graduation or college matriculation rates?

  • Does the data represented in Fig 8 really represent a significant difference of economically-disadvantaged educational attainment in relation to school structure or is it just corroborating that the differential increases over time for the impoverished?  (Assume it does because chart presents test scores of just 8th graders rather than whole school.]

  • Given that K-8 schools are likely more common in less densely populated poorer districts and middle schools are more likely in more densely populated affluent districts, how are the test scores in Fig 8 also affected by district spending levels?

  • In a typical small Maine school, what is the overall common one-year fluctuation in test scores?  How does this compare to the relative range of a school’s test scores as a function of poverty or as a function of school spending?

  • How much does the correlation of per-pupil spending as a function of school size overlay the effect of school spending on economically disadvantaged students?

  • How could we test a hypothesis that the apparent lack of correlation between increasing spending and increasing economically disadvantaged test scores is masked by differential spending in poorer areas because of inefficiency of scale as opposed to actual differences in educational programming?

  • What would we learn from a chart of economically-disadvantaged test scores over a broader period of time arrayed against per-pupil spending adjusted for school size?

Priorities for improving Maine school funding

Following the state’s receipt of the Picus report on Maine school funding and Picus Associates’ proposed alternative ‘EB Model’, here are my recommendations on how we on the Education Committee should proceed:

EB vs EPS: modeling the comprehensive cost of adequate equitable educational opportunity:

  • Retain concept of Essential Programs and Services in concept as basis of model that is evaluated as level of funding necessary to give all students the opportunity to meet the evolving Maine Learning Results.
  • Employ EB model and Picus report as intermediate evidence of present adequacy and inadequacy of present EPS model — with immediate priority given to:
    1. Representing professional development and collaborative time necessary to implement proficiency-based learning.
    2. Implementing expanded capacity for universal voluntary early education.
    3. Ensuring equity of opportunity for economically disadvantaged students and communities by reevaluating:
      • EPS labor market ratios vs. Comparable Wage Index.
      • Validity of EPS economically-disadvantaged adjustment.
      • EPS assumptions about augmentation of Title 1 federal funds.
  • Recommit to ongoing, rolling, evidence-based evaluation of components of EPS.

EQUITY AND CAPACITY: distribution of funding:

  • Collaborate with Taxation Committee to improve local equity in school funding by revitalizing state-funding of income-based circuit-breaker property tax refunds.
  • Link minimum special ed subsidy percentage (currently at 30% and originally targeted at 100%) directly to state’s progress towards meeting obligation to fund 55% of education.
  • Provide state-level funding for state-approved charter schools.
  • Remove unfunded actuarial liability from state calculation of the cost of education.

OVERALL STATE SUPPORT:

  • Advocate for adequate overall level of state funding for education towards 55% of 100% of EPS.