Maine Rural Schools School Choice

Maine: Trump Plan for “School Choice” Would be a Disaster for Rural Schools

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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.”

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