May 7, 2012

Key education legislation still awaiting action

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The Legislature has given state, higher education and local education officials plenty to work on this summer.

More assignments could be on the way, with some major education initiatives still pending as legislators prepare to reconvene May 15.

Several education-related bills that were approved by both the House and Senate have been placed on the Special Appropriations Table, where legislation that costs money awaits the review of the Appropriations Committee.

If the committee decides there's funding for the bills, they go back to the Senate for a final vote.

Bills on the table include initiatives to review the state's funding formula for schools, address bullying and change the way high schools grant diplomas.

The following is a roundup of nine key education-related bills and where they stand:

L.D. 958: Review of the state's funding formula for schools

Status: Appropriations table

The review would authorize the Legislature to commission an independent review of the Essential Programs and Services model that allocates state subsidies to school districts. A full report would be due by December 2013.

The model has been tweaked, including through a law last year that provided more support to rural school districts. Questions sometimes arise about the fairness and effectiveness of the formula, according to Department of Education spokesman Matthew Stone.

"We can continue addressing small parts of the funding formula, or we can really take an objective look at the formula and determine whether it's accomplishing what we need it to accomplish," Stone said.

The bill seeks $450,000 in appropriations to pay for the study.

L.D. 1003: Medicaid reimbursements for schools

Status: Enacted in an override of Gov. Paul LePage's veto

Federal law both requires schools to provide appropriate services to students with disabilities, and also reimburses schools for some of those services through Medicaid, which in Maine is called MaineCare. Because of changes in billing and processing of claims, Medicaid reimbursements to Maine schools dropped from $37 million in 2009-10 to $7 million the following year.

L.D. 1003 requires the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to work together to refine the state's MaineCare rules so schools can receive more federal funding for services they are required to provide.

"We really want to be able to bill for those services, if it's appropriate to bill for those services," said Jill Adams, executive director of Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities. "Whatever we can bring in, that helps special education."

In vetoing the bill, LePage objected to the Legislature giving instructions to the executive branch. The veto override was the first in Maine in a decade.

L.D. 1237: Anti-bullying law

Status: Appropriations table

The bill was defeated at the end of last session because of concerns about cost and opposition from the Christian Civic League of Maine, which said that it would restrict students' right to free speech. The bill was carried over and amended to add First Amendment protections.

L.D. 1237 defines bullying and cyberbullying and requires school districts to adopt policies and procedures to respond to complaints of bullying. School districts also must report substantiated incidents of bullying to the Department of Education annually.

The fiscal note on the bill predicts a "significant, statewide" effect on schools.

L.D. 1422: Proficiency-based diplomas

Status: Appropriations table

The Department of Education is promoting a major overhaul in the way public schools deliver education, and changing high school graduation requirements is the first step.

L.D. 1422 repeals time-based components of Maine's graduation requirements. Starting in 2017, high schools would have to grant diplomas based not on course credits or years spent in school, but on demonstrated proficiency on specific topics and skills.

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