Archives for category: Maine

This case will go to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is now packed with justices who want to tear down the “wall of separation” between church and state. Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Barrett, Thomas, and Alito, possibly Roberts, are likely to agree that Maine cannot deny funding to religious schools. Espinosa v. Montana set the stage for the next school funding decision; that ruling said that if a state funded any nonpublic schools, it must all nonpublic–including religious–schools.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has rejected a challenge to the state of Maine’s decision not to use public education funding to pay for tuition at private religious schools, preserving Maine’s efforts to prevent public funding of religious education. Public Funds Public Schools filed amicus briefs in the case – Carson v. Makin – to support the Maine law. 

The Institute for Justice, a group of pro-voucher lawyers behind the Carson v. Makin litigation, has vowed to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the First Circuit’s ruling. PFPS will continue to support the law before the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. 

Maine’s constitution, like those in all 50 state
s, contains an affirmative obligation on the state to maintain and support a system of free public education available to all children. To carry out this mandate, for nearly 150 years the Maine Legislature has permitted local school districts that do not operate their own public schools for geographic or historical reasons to pay tuition to approved, nonsectarian private schools for resident children.

Participating private schools must comply with a host of legal requirements to ensure they meet state standards for an appropriate, nondiscriminatory education.

The First Circuit rejected prior challenges to the Maine law in 1999 and 2004, and Maine’s highest state court rejected similar claims in 1999 and 2006. In 2018, Institute for Justice lawyers filed yet another lawsuit in the federal courts seeking to overturn Maine’s decision not to include private schools offering religious instruction in the state’s tuition program. 

In Carson v. Makin, the Institute for Justice argued that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which upheld a private school voucher program that included religious schools, required overturning Maine’s law. However, the Maine federal district court held that the state’s exclusion of religious schools from the tuition program did not violate the free exercise of religion and other rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S Constitution. 

The PFPS amicus brief to the First Circuit emphasized Maine’s compelling interest under its state constitution in providing a free public education to all Maine children in schools that comply with state standards, including the requirement that they not engage in religious instruction. PFPS further argued that including religious schools would undermine Maine’s carefully limited program designed to provide a publicly funded education in the narrow circumstances where a district-operated secondary school is unavailable. 

The brief also detailed how including religious schools in the tuition-based program would divert significant funding away from Maine’s already underfunded public schools. Finally, PFPS warned that because religious schools often discriminate based on a student’s religious faith, disability, sexual orientation and other factors, including these schools in the tuition program would entangle Maine in regulating matters of religion or result in using taxpayer dollars to fund discrimination.

The First Circuit’s opinion upholding the Maine law explained that: “[g]iven limited public funds, the state’s rural character, and the concomitant scarcity of available public school options for residents of many [districts], we do not see why the Free Exercise Clause compels Maine either to forego relying on private schools to ensure that its residents can obtain the benefits of a free public education or to treat pervasively sectarian education as a substitute for it.”

“The First Circuit’s ruling is a powerful affirmation of Maine’s longstanding decision not to use limited taxpayer dollars to pay tuition at schools that do not provide a secular education meeting state standards to all children, free from discrimination,” said Jessica Levin, ELC Senior Attorney and PFPS Director. “We stand ready to push back efforts to divert Maine’s public funds to religious schools.”

For more information on voucher litigation and PFPS amicus briefs, visit the Litigation page of the PFPS website.

Press Contact:Sharon KrengelPolicy and Outreach DirectorEducation Law Center60 Park Place, Suite 300Newark, NJ 07102973-624-1815, ext.

Peter Greene writes about a new push to expand charters in Maine by the same-old group that has failed in the past to disrupt the state’s devotion to public schools. Wake up, Maine! Don’t be fooled. They want you to divert money from public schools to privately managed schools run by entrepreneurs and corporate chains.

He begins:

Maine has suffered through its own brands of education disruption. Most notably, they became the target for a bunch folks who wanted to use Maine as a proof of concept state for proficiency based learning grafted onto standards based grading. At best they showed that a poorly implemented and underfunded disruption of this sort is disastrous; at worst, they showed that re-organizing education around the needs of data miners is a terrible idea. However you slice it, Maine’s little experiment failed hard.

But what education in Maine hasn’t had to deal with much is the rise of charter schools. The charter industry hasn’t infected Maine as badly as, say, Ohio or Indiana. There are ten charters, with fewer than a total of 3,000 students enrolled. There are plenty of possible explanations, not the least of which is that once you get away from Theme Park Maine on the coast, Maine is pretty rural (I have an old friend who used to describe his central Maine high school as fifteen miles and an hour and a half away from the nearest rival). But that limited role for charteristas may be about to change.

Like every state where charters are legal, Maine has a group that promotes, advocates, lobbies and generally cheerleads for the charter industry– the Maine Association for Charter Schools, whose stated purpose is to promote “high-quality options for all children within Maine’s public education system.” But last year the legislature indefinitely extended a charter school cap

So what’s a chartery education disruption group to do? 

How about renaming yourself? And rebranding yourself with a whole new mission by declaring yourself the leaders of the state’s education community?

So let’s meet a fun new group launched just a few months ago. It’s the Education Action Forum of Maine and it is, well– from their About Us page:

The Education Action Forum of Maine operated for twenty years as the Maine Association for Charter Schools. On June 17, 2020, the MACS board voted to change the name and expand its mission to adapt to the realities influencing the education landscape in Maine.Think of them as the Pandemic Down East Opportunist Society. Also from their About Us…

The time is ripe for an organization, such as ours, to provide leadership to assist the education system to move forward safely, and to develop strategies to restructure the system in ways unimaginable before the pandemic struck. 
It takes its “inspiration” from “analogous” groups like the Mind Trust of Indianapolis and Education Evolving in Minnesota. I’ve written about the Mind Trust before (you can read about them here and here), and they are the same old disruptor model. Declare the public schools a mess, and then declare yourself “leaders” in the education space by virtue of the fact that 1) you say so and 2) you have collected some money and political connections. Mind Trust was, in fact, saying a couple of years ago that they wanted to scale up their model to other states. 

So when EAFoM says that they are “designed to amplify the voices of families, students and teachers,” you can take that with a few tons of salt. When they talk about “restructuring the education system,” assume they mean dismantling and privatizing the public system. And when they say they are looking to develop some “critical partnerships,” pay attention to the people they partner with.

The pastor who officiated at a super-spreader wedding gave a defiant indoor sermon to maskless congregants, according to the Boston Globe:

The officiant of a now-infamous wedding in Millinocket gave a defiant sermon during an indoor church service on Sunday, just a day after Maine’s CDC announced it was investigating a coronavirus outbreak among those affiliated with the Sanford church.

Todd Bell, the pastor, portrayed Calvary Baptist Church, which he leads, as being on the front lines of a culture war, battling against a “socialistic platform” that mandates mask-wearing and distance learning in schools.

“I’ll tell you what the world wants all the churches to do,” Bell said during one of two Sunday services, which the church posted on YouTube. “They want us to shut down, go home, and let people get used to that just long enough until we can finally stop the advancing of the Gospel.”

Bell’s comments echoed some of the political talking points that President Trump and others on the right have used to decry coronavirus restrictions. At a rally in New Hampshire on Friday night, for example, Trump lamented that Democrats “don’t believe law-abiding citizens can go to a church together. You can’t go to church anymore.”

The Aug. 7 wedding at which Bell officiated in East Millinocket has been linked to 123 coronavirus cases in Maine, the largest outbreak in the state, as well as to the death of Theresa Dentremont, an 83-year-old woman who did not attend the event. Many of the participants in the wedding, including the bride and groom, went silent as the fallout grew, switching their social media accounts to private.

But Bell’s sermon on Sunday, at his church 225 miles south of the scene of the wedding, was fiery and unrepentant, indicating just how politicized the coronavirus has become, even in communities that have been affected by it. At times, he seemed to delight in provocation, saying that he hoped media outlets would watch the service. He did not respond to a request from the Globe for comment.

Churches have been political battlegrounds during the coronavirus, as well as occasional hot spots, with more than 650 cases linked to houses of worship and religious events since the pandemic began, according to a New York Times database in early July.

On Sunday morning, a 15-person choir assembled onstage at Calvary Baptist, maskless, and sang hymns.

The state of Maine says “cloth face coverings must be worn by all attendees when physical distancing is difficult to maintain” at worship services and also that “choirs are strongly discouraged.” When asked by the Globe whether the Sanford church was violating state rules, the Maine CDC said only that there was an ongoing investigation into the outbreak.

Gib Parrish, an epidemiologist in Maine, said that, based on what the Globe described of the service, the Sunday gathering appeared to increase the risk of participants contracting the coronavirus.

“If there are people who are likely to be positive in that group, then having an extended period of time together — particularly if they’re close by, [and] they’re not doing anything in terms of physical distancing or wearing masks, if they’re singing or shouting or talking loudly — those are activities that are known to facilitate transmission of the virus,” Parrish said.

Bell said in the sermon that the church was discouraging people from coming if they were sick and advising them to quarantine at home.

The pastor also warned his congregants that a vaccine against the coronavirus would include “aborted baby tissue,” an issue that some religious and antiabortion groups have seized upon in recent months. A number of vaccines, including those against rubella, chickenpox, and shingles, were manufactured using fetal cells from elective abortions decades ago, but the cell lines that continue to grow the vaccines are now generations removed from fetal cells. In April, a group including committee chairmen from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged the Food and Drug Administration not to develop a coronavirus vaccine using cell lines that originated from fetal cells.

Bell said that instead of trusting a vaccine, he would put his faith in God, “the one that has the power to remove pestilences.”

The Boston Globe says the infamous wedding has thus far produced three deaths and more than 130 infections. It cited evangelical leaders who said that Pastor Bell represented a fringe element, not the mainstream of evangelical Christianity.

But even as such episodes of defiance and denial of COVID-19 make the rounds online, pastors and theologians in New England say such stances represent a fringe view within evangelical Christianity, one that serves to heighten the distance many faithful already feel from the politically fraught term “evangelical…”

“I think the aggressive stance of the guy in Maine is an outlier, and it makes me kind of cringe,” said Jeffrey Bass, executive director of Emmanuel Gospel Center, a group that works closely with evangelical churches in the Boston area.

Ryan Burge, an assistant professor at Eastern Illinois University who researches religion and political behavior, said evangelicals who reject public health guidance in the name of religious freedom are not representative of the movement as a whole.

Although there is no universally accepted definition of what it means to be an evangelical Christian, it’s generally understood to mean a commitment to the Christian gospel’s message of spiritual salvation through Jesus Christ, and a dedication to spreading that gospel to others. Self-identified evangelicals and born-again Christians make up 41 percent of Americans. Polls suggest the majority take COVID-19 precautions seriously, Burge and other experts said.

Two prominent civil rights legal groups joined to support the decision by the state of Maine not to use public funds for religious schools.

PFPS Urges Appellate Court to Uphold Maine’s Decision Not to Send Public Funds to Religious Schools
Public Funds Public Schools (PFPS) has filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in federal appellate court in Carson v. Makin, a case challenging the State of Maine’s decision not to use public education funding to pay for tuition at private religious schools.
PFPS, a joint initiative of Education Law Center (ELC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), is a national campaign to ensure that public funds are used to support and maintain public education and are not diverted to private schools.
As in other states, Maine’s constitution contains an education clause requiring the State to maintain and support a system of public schools available to all Maine children. To carry out this mandate, the State Legislature permits “school administrative units” that do not operate their own public schools for geographic or historical reasons to pay tuition to approved, nonsectarian private schools on behalf of resident children. Participating private schools must comply with a host of legal requirements to ensure they meet State education standards for an appropriate, nondiscriminatory education.
In 2018, three Maine families filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s longstanding decision to limit the program to nonreligious schools. The district court rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that the State’s exclusion of religious schools from the tuition program violates their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
The plaintiffs appealed, and the case is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. PFPS submitted an amicus brief in support of the Maine Commissioner of Education’s defense of the law, urging the appellate court to affirm the lower court’s decision.
PFPS’s brief emphasizes Maine’s compelling interest under the state constitution to preserve the carefully regulated tuition program in its current form. The brief explains that inclusion of religious schools would undermine the State’s construction of a limited program to fulfill its education clause duty in the narrow circumstances where a traditional public school is not available.
The amicus brief also details how expanding the program to religious schools would divert significant resources from Maine’s already underfunded public education system. Finally, it warns that, because religious schools often discriminate based on characteristics such as religion and disability, including them in the tuition program would entangle the State in regulating matters of religion or force it to fund discrimination.
“PFPS supports Maine’s decision not to spend limited public education funds on tuition for religious schools,” said Jessica Levin, ELC Senior Attorney and PFPS Director. “Unnecessarily expanding the tuition program would undermine the State’s constitutional commitment to provide an adequate public education to every child because it would divert funding away from a public school system that needs more, not fewer, resources.”
 “Our brief highlights Maine’s longstanding commitment to providing every child with an opportunity to attend school in an environment free from discrimination. We urge the court to uphold the legal framework promoting this essential goal,” said Sam Boyd, SPLC Senior Staff Attorney.”
For more information on voucher litigation and PFPS amicus briefs, visit the Litigation page of the PFPS website.
Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center

This is a great story. For eight years, Maine had a hot-headed Tea Party zealot as Governor. Paul LePage appointed a homeschooling parent as Commissioner of Education. He made racist remarks. He followed Jeb Bush as his idol.

In November, Democrat Janet Mills was elected. Competence, intelligence, sanity. Wow!

The educator she chose as Commissioner of education was stunned. She is amazing!

BRUNSWICK — The Saturday morning after Janet Mills won the gubernatorial election in November, Pender Makin sat in bed with her computer, sipping some coffee and preparing to compose a letter to whoever would be the next commissioner of the state Department of Education.

“I was on the one hand so filled with hope for a much better future for Maine, and also filled with exasperation due to some significant issues that I was concerned about at the department,” she recalled Dec. 28.

“‘Dear new commissioner,’” the Scarborough resident’s letter began.

Then, she said, “I basically laid out what I thought should be the most immediate strategic goals for that post.”

Makin, Brunswick’s assistant superintendent of schools since 2015, had no idea she was writing a letter to herself.

Even though she never planned to send the letter, deeming it just a way to organize her thoughts and feelings, Makin had started to establish a platform of issues and priorities that would serve her well in the weeks ahead.

The state Senate and Education and Cultural Affairs Committee are due this month to confirm Mills’ nomination of Makin as Education Department commissioner. She would replace Robert Hasson of South Portland, who former Gov. Paul LePage tapped for the role in March 2017…

Makin said she was asked out of the blue in early December to attend an interview in Augusta with a cabinet screening committee.

“I said, ‘of course I will,’” she recalled. “How would I ever not? … I wake up with a sense of urgency; I consider it a complete mission, public education across the board.”

Makin saw the interview as a chance to share her beliefs about education with “a bunch of smart, powerful people,” but didn’t imagine herself much of a contender for the post…

Taking the reins of the department at the dawn of a new administration, “I see Maine as being in a prime position to be influencing national education policy, rather than reactively responding to every little whim that’s happening (at the federal level),” Makin said.

“We have the most unique demographics, we have innovative people in our classrooms all across the state,” she added, plus “a lot of passion and determination, hard work, and all the things that make Maine a real leader educationally. I feel that we maybe have squandered every opportunity to highlight that at the national level.”

Makin also said she sees Maine striving to achieve a world-class education for its students and pushing back against federal policies with which it doesn’t agree, instead of “absorbing blindly whatever gets handed down to us.”

She recalled implementation of the “No Child Left Behind” initiative in 2001, which launched a period of externally driven policies that created a culture of fear-driven accountability. Non-educators were telling educators how to teach, she said, and using sometimes punitive methods to try to bring about success.

But educators “don’t respond to carrots or sticks,” Makin noted, pointing out that the new teachers she meets each year come with a passion and idealistic desire to do the best for their students.

“They arrive pre-motivated,” she said. “… They don’t need to have their professionalism stripped away and replaced with something to implement.”

“Government’s role should pull back, and focus on bills and initiatives that provide infrastructure,” Makin said. “Let’s look at innovative ways to provide … universal (pre-kindergarten). How can we raise up teacher bottom pay so that they’re recognized for the amount of education and work that they do to become teachers? How do we create equity across the state?”

“These are great, big things,” she continued. “I think government should stay out of the classroom; I think government should stay out of the transcripts,” and retreat from “micromanaging the actual operations of our schools.”

“When you take leaders, and you strip from them their leadership and you replace it with stuff to manage, you’re not fostering leadership,” Makin said. “So I think we need to just have a different lens.”

The Network for Public Education Action Fund Endorses Janet Mills for Governor of Maine. Janet Mills is the real deal.

The Network for Public Education Action gives its strongest endorsement to Janet Mills for Governor of Maine. Mills is in favor of fully funding public education and opposes taxpayer money going to vouchers and charter schools. This is what she told the NEA.

“I firmly oppose taking tax dollars from the public education system to fund new private or charter schools, and I do not support lifting the cap on new charters. The proposal to allow for ten charter schools in Maine was largely based on the premise that these schools would serve as an experiment. So far, the promise of dramatically higher-quality education has yet to materialize, and I believe it would be premature to expand that experiment without positive results.”

Mills, the daughter of a public school teacher, has said that she would support increasing beginning teachers’ salaries and that high-stakes testing is a “poor method of evaluating both teachers and students.” She was one of the twenty Attorneys General who successfully sued Betsy DeVos over abandoning federal protections for those who were cheated by predatory, for-profit colleges.

Janet Mills is a true friend of public education and deserves your vote on November 6.

Thank you for all you do.

Emily Talmage describes the fight against the edtech industry in New England. The resolutions passed by the Massachusetts Teachers Association are a landmark in teachers’ efforts to block privatization, data mining, and replacement of teachers by machines. Most of the pressure to capitulate, she says, emanate from the Nellie Mae Foundation.

The odd fact about the drive to promote blended learning is that the evidence base is non-existent.

The successes in Massachusetts show that an awakened public and teaching profession can beat the powerful forces of the edtech industry.

The Bangor Daily News in Maine reports that Trump’s push for school choice in Maine would be a disaster for rural schools. This article helps to explain why rural legislators are not enthusiastic about school choice. It would destroy the schools they have and leave everyone worse off.

Mt. Abram Regional High School, north of Farmington, is a small school, with only around 150 students. But the teenagers who step off the bus each morning come from dozens of towns, some 50 or 60 miles away. That can mean a long bus ride for some.

Senior Olivia Scott says it has created a tight knit community.

“Here, you get a really strong sense of who you are individually,” she says. “You get to know all of your classmates and all of your peers and all of your teachers, even.”

“Everything happens there, town meetings happen there,” says Susan Pratt, the superintendent of MSAD 58, which contains Mt. Abram. In an area that’s been hard-hit by a loss of jobs and people, she says the schools are much more than a place to hold classes.

“They’re the center of the community,” she says. “It’s really the only gathering place for some of these little towns.”

And that has Pratt worried about a new push for school choice in the president’s budget proposal.

While it’s still unclear what exactly school choice would mean, a common approach is to give families vouchers for a certain amount of money and let them choose where they want their kids to go to school. It has been tried in places such as Wisconsin and Florida, to mixed results.

Pratt says in rural western Maine, where schools are hours away from each other, getting students to another destination would be close to impossible. Experts say that means the law would likely benefit more affluent students who could supply their own transportation.

“There aren’t a lot of options for many of the school systems,” she says. “Your options are limited. And so their choices are limited for folks, just because of the distance, as much as anything else.”

But for many educators, the bigger worry is what happens if students do leave their current public school district. Tina Meserve, the superintendent of RSU 16 in Poland, says she’s concerned it would leave schools without enough students and revenue to provide a quality education.

“You’ve got to have a certain student population to offer AP chemistry, AP physics, AP calculus. Plus your regular algebra and geometry class,” she says. “So again, you run into that problem of needing to have a certain student population to provide a well rounded education for kids.”

Jeff Bryant, a wise observer of politics and education, offers solace at a time when supporters of public education fear the ascendancy of a Republican President and Congress devoted to privatization of schools.

He reviews the electoral victories for public schools.

Chief among them, of course, were the overwhelming defeat of charter school measures in Massachusetts and Georgia.

Another victory occurred in Washington State, where Bill Gates spent $500,000 into an effort to unseat Supreme Court justices who ruled that charter schools are not public schools. The Justice who wrote that decision, Barbara Madsen, was re-elected with 64% of the vote. Two other incumbents were re-elected.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock, a strong supporter of public schools, was re-elected, running against an advocate of school choice.

California voters passed measures to assure school funding.

One other piece of good news–and these days, any piece of good news is welcome–is that Maine voters narrowly agreed to raise taxes by 3% on upper-income taxpayers, to increase education funding.

Please watch the 10-second video at the end of this post. You will love it!

Emily Talmadge, a teacher-blogger in Maine, used to worry about the dangers inherent in a Clinton administration. Now she warns that the threat of competency based education–delivered online, all the time, profiting a few, bad for humans–will thrive in a Trump Administration.

“The real agenda – the ongoing march toward a cradle-to-grave system of human capital development that relies on the most sophisticated data collection and tracking technologies to serve its unthinkably profitable end – is fueled and directed by a multi-billion dollar education-industrial-complex that has been built over the course of decades.

“It’s an absolute beast, an army of epic scale, and it’s a system that has the same uncanny ability to blend in with its surroundings as a chameleon.

“Take, for example, the new “innovative assessment systems” that are being thrust on us every which way in the wake of ESSA. Under the banner of free market ideology, the far-right American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is promoting the very same assessment policies that far-left groups like the national unions and the National Center for Fair and Open Testing are now pushing. And though some claim that one ideology is merely “co-opting” the ideas of the other, the reality is that they lead to the same data-mining, cradle-to-career tracking end.

“Consider, too, the massive push for blended, competency-based, and digital learning – all unproven methods of educating children, but highly favored by ed-tech providers and data-miners.

“Most of these corporate-backed policies were cooked up in Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, and then made their way not only to the far-right ALEC, but also to left-leaning groups like the Center for Collaborative Education, the Coalition for Essential Schools, and the Great Schools Partnership. Depending on what sort of population each group is targeting, these wolves will dress themselves up in sheep’s clothing and make appeals to different values. For the right, they will package their policies in the language of the free market and choice; for the left, they will wrap them in a blanket of social-justice terminology.

“Pull back the curtain far enough, however, and you will see they are selling the same thing.”

Emily lives in Maine, whose Tea Party Governor Paul LePage was one of the first to jump on the Jeb Bush “Digital Learning Now!” bandwagon.

It was exposed in a wonderful, prize-winning “follow the money” investigative report.