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Governor Signs Standards Bill In Maine After Weeks of Debate

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Gov. Angus S. King Jr. of Maine signed an educational-standards bill last week that, eventually, will institute a definition of what students in the state should know and be able to do.

The signing followed weeks of heated debate in the Statehouse that often left supporters doubting the bill's chances. The final version lacked many of the bill's original provisions, and lawmakers did not appropriate $2 million intended to help acquaint Maine teachers with the new standards.

Despite the revisions, supporters of the so-called learning-results law were pleased their proposal survived an ideological battle similar to those that have threatened standards legislation in other states. As elsewhere, opponents in Maine saw the standards as an intrusion on local control.

The compromise bill passed with bipartisan support, 94-42 in the House and 22-8 in the Senate.

"I thought the vote was going to be much closer," said Democratic Rep. Michael F. Brennan, a key House supporter. "But fundamentally, people agree with the idea that if you raise standards, students will perform better."

A Lobbying Blitz

House approval seemed less likely three weeks ago when proponents guessed they had about 20 supporters out of the chamber's 151 members, said Sen. Jane A. Amero, the bill's Republican sponsor.

More than 70 lawmakers sent a letter of protest to the Independent governor, prompted by concerns the bill's requirements would be financially burdensome to districts and that its language was both value-laden and vague. (See Education Week, April 3, 1996.)

But supporters launched a lobbying blitz in the legislative session's final days, and many of Maine's largest corporations released their lobbyists to push the bill, Ms. Amero added.

"These CEOs are saying we need people coming out of our schools with more skills," she said.

While it was always short on specifics, the measure originally included several broadly defined goals in eight subject areas. Under English, for example, one goal was to "demonstrate an understanding of enduring themes of literature."

Lawmakers stripped the measure of such goals, leaving the eight subject areas and a set of guiding principles to be used in drafting more specific requirements.

The standards and related assessments would be in place by the 2002-03 school year.

Second Opinions

Lawmakers disagreed on the importance of not funding the $2 million earmarked for training educators on the new standards.

"I don't think the money not being appropriated this year is a big problem," Ms. Amero said, explaining that until the standards are approved there is little substance to base training on.

But Rep. William Lemke, a Democrat who led the opposition in the House, said that without the money, the bill was "not dead, but barely kicking."

"This bill had a problem on every page of it," he said. "This thing is going to get killed when we go back in."

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