Much of the advance talk regarding the next legislative session is predicting the fight ahead between Gov. LePage and the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
But not everything should be a fight.
Democrats and Republicans will have to work together to pass a budget, and there are other areas that have such broad common interest that they don’t need to break down along partisan lines. The most obvious is education.
Every member of the Legislature has schools to fund and children to educate in his or her district. Every representative of the people of Maine has an interest in the state having the best education system and producing the most prepared work force in the country.
Everyone recognizes the important job done by teachers, and everyone cares about the local property taxpayers, who support schools and are stressed by escalating costs.
This is enough common ground to continue what has long been bipartisan work on education reform.
Gov. LePage is on board but has been impatient with the pace of change. While we agree that the kids in school now can’t wait for policy makers to figure out what they want to do, the governor’s impatience can slow the process down.
His recent claim “If you want a good education in Maine, go to a private school. If you can’t afford it, tough luck,” fuels the suspicion that he is an enemy of public education, when, as governor, he should be its biggest supporter.
The governor and Education Commissioner Steven Bowen should look for ways to put the rhetoric aside and make progress.
LePage’s school choice program, which would have sent public money to private and religious schools, was defeated even when his party controlled the Legislature. But there is progress that could be made on charter schools, which were finally made legal by the last Legislature.
State officials should work with local school districts to determine a way to expand charters in Maine (currently, three have been approved) in a way that does not cripple the traditional schools from fulfilling their essential mission.
It may be that funding them directly from Augusta, rather than by diverting money from district budgets, is a fairer way to provide options for families without interfering with traditional public schools.
Another area where there is an opportunity to make progress is teacher accountability. To succeed, this will require collaboration between the department and one of the governor’s favorite targets, the Maine Education Association.
Massachusetts is a state with strong unions and Democratic control of the legislative and executive branches that has a rigorous teacher and administrator accountability program. It not only weeds out the people who shouldn’t be teaching, but also gives teachers the feedback they need to get better at their jobs. There is no reason that Maine couldn’t use the progress shown in the Bay State as a model for programs that support teachers and provide students with the best teaching available.
There are other areas where there are opportunities to work together. Smoothing the transition from secondary school to higher education is one. Helping students and families pay for college is another. These should not be strictly partisan issues.
Which is not to say that we won’t see fights in Augusta next year. There are two parties for a reason, and they don’t see everything the same way. But where there are opportunities to succeed, we expect all sides to be able to find a way to move forward together.