In an indication of what passes for progressive policy these days, Governor LePage’s first budget remarkably stems the recent slide in state aid to local education, holding the perennial shortfall steady at a mere $180 million below what the state calculates as its legal obligation to ensure Maine students an adequate and equitable education.
Indeed the Governor has gone to some length to assure citizens that he intends his administration to support education - even while expecting both frugal efficiency and an apparently contradictory expansion of pathways toward more rigorous achievement.
Amplifying and ranging a bit off-road from his prepared text, in his budget address to the Legislature on Thursday the Governor declared that he intends Maine to become a national leader in educational standards.
Within the constraints of current revenues, this is a prospect which will be exciting both for its challenges and its performance demands on all school stakeholders, from Kindergarteners up, not just those commonly labeled as the educational establishment. But it’s also a discussion that all should welcome, as the project gets right to the heart of our essential expectations for public education in Maine.
The Governor continues to make plain an interest in strengthening support for vocational and technical training. He also proposes expanding the mission of public secondary schools to include an additional year in which students may receive college credit, presumably on the public nickel.
The details of the delivery and funding for this vision remain unclear and it surely would be overstating to claim this as evidence of the Governor’s conversion to the proven successes of the Finnish model, with free post-secondary tuition for all.
But it’s also too early to conclude that the Governor’s interests here are in any way at odds with the improvements which are an ongoing obligation of the open and equitable work of Maine’s schools.
If Governor LePage wants to make Maine’s public schools the envy of the world, let’s hold him to it.