AUGUSTA – A work group formed by the Legislature met for the first time Monday to start developing a school-choice proposal to send to lawmakers in January.

The group must settle many details about funding, transportation and education for low-income and special-needs students, but much of Monday’s discussion revolved around the public policy goals behind the push for school choice.

Winslow High School social sciences teacher Mike Thurston, representing the Maine Education Association, said, “I think I need to know what problem, number one, that school choice is going to specifically address, and why is expanding school choice a model that’s going to address that problem?”

Other group members representing Maine’s education associations questioned whether expanding school choice is necessary, while members appointed by Gov. Paul LePage said it would introduce competition and add options for parents.

Earlier this year, LePage proposed a program that would have allowed schools to open their doors to students from outside district boundaries, without the superintendent agreements that are now required for students who want to transfer. State funding would follow students who change districts.

When the bill reached the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee late in the session, committee members said there were too many questions about how open enrollment would affect school districts and students. They amended the bill to create the work group and gave it a Jan. 14 deadline to report back with a model for school choice.

The education associations appointed Thurston, Waterville High School Principal Don Reiter, Scarborough school board member Jacquelyn Perry, Dexter Superintendent Kevin Jordan, Auburn Superintendent Katherine Grondin and Falmouth special education administrator Polly Crowell.

LePage appointed Wanda Lincoln, program coordinator for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension; Amanda Clark, research associate for the Maine Heritage Policy Center; Heidi Sampson, a homeschooling leader and state Board of Education member from Alfred; Matt Hoidal, executive director of Camp Sunshine; Tim Walton, a lobbyist for Cianbro Corp.; and Jonathan Nass, senior policy adviser to LePage.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen acknowledged Monday that some members may find they can’t support the model the group produces, especially if they represent associations that oppose the concept.

Bowen said the reasons for pursuing school choice are important, but the work group’s job is to figure out how to do it — not why.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

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