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Jay Field / MPBN

AUGUSTA, Maine - A top Democratic lawmaker in the Maine House wants to make sure parents know they have the right to opt their school-age children out of taking standardized tests.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Education Association brought teachers from across the state to Augusta to discuss what they say is a devastating education budget proposal by Gov. Paul LePage.

Acting Education Commissioner Tom Desjardins was quick to fire back, saying support for Maine schools from the state is at record levels.

The MEA says the aid to local schools proposed by LePage is flat funded at a time when the costs of running schools, from salaries to supplies, continues to go up.

What is a 'rural education' and what does the future hold for rural schools?

Guests:  Gordon A. Donaldson, Jr. Ed.D., Professor Emeritus of Education, University of Maine.
  Mara Tieken, Assistant Professor at Bates College and author of "Why Rural Schools Matter." 
  Todd West, principal at Deer Isle-Stonington High School.

How technology is used in Maine's public schools, from IPads in kindergarten to the middle school laptop program.

Guests:  Jeff Mao, Learning Technology Policy Director, Maine Department of Education (last day on the job is 9/5/14).  New Position - Senior Director, Learning Solutions Programs, Common Sense Media

Anne Macdonald, Technology Integration, K-8 Falmouth School Department

Andrew Wallace, Director of Technology, South Portland School Department, Technology Integration, K-8 Falmouth School Department

Tom Porter / MPBN

The Portland Public School Department plans to launch an online program this year. The district is trying to get a slice of the virtual school pie as it faces competition for students — and funding. But some educators remain skeptical of yet another online option. Portland officials say it's an important — and innovative — option for students.

The first day of school is a busy one for Portland Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk. He rides his bike to district schools to personally welcome students back.

Jennifer Mitchell / MPBN

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — In Maine this week, tens of thousands of school children are headed back to class. And many of those kids may be getting on the morning bus with an empty stomach. By some estimates, nearly one in four Maine children live in homes where the food supply is uncertain, and educators in some of Maine's poorest communities are looking to a new federal program that offers free lunch and free breakfast to all students, regardless of income.

AUGUSTA, Maine — An increase in the number of out-of-state students enrolled in University of Maine System schools this fall is providing a financial boost for the cash-strapped system.

The Portland Press Herald reports that as of Aug. 10 commitments from out-of-state students — who pay nearly three times the in-state tuition — are up 12 percent over the same time last year.

More than 1,500 new out-of-state students will attend the system's seven campuses, 162 more than last year.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine is getting nearly $84,000 from the federal government to help subsidize the cost of the advanced placement exams for low-income students.

The U.S. Department of Education said that the $83,961 that Maine will receive is part of $28.4 million in grants being distributed nationwide.

The department says that the money that will go toward paying for the test fees is designed to encourage more low-income students to take the exams that can help them get college credit while still in high school.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The president of the University of Maine at Augusta is leaving to take a job in California.

University of Maine System Chancellor James Page said Monday that Allyson Handley is stepping down to become the executive director of the National University's Sanford Education Center, which will educate nonprofit leaders and teachers.

Handley, who has led the university since 2008, will stay at UMaine Augusta through Sept. 8. Page says he will begin working on choosing an interim president.

College attendance among Maine high school graduates is on the rise, according to a new report from the Portland-based Mitchell Institute.

Researchers are especially encouraged that the improvement has matched gains in the state's high school graduation rate.

Over the past seven years, Maine's high school graduation rate has jumped from 80 to 86 percent.

PORTLAND, Maine — At least six organizations intend to apply for the last four available charter school slots in Maine.

The six proposals, including a virtual school that has applied the last three years, sent letters of intent to the Maine Charter School Commission by Wednesday's deadline.

Maine charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently of public school districts. By law, the state has a cap of 10 charter schools until 2021.

Jim Rier

Jim Rier was sworn in as commissioner of the Department of Eduction this past February — and arrived to a desk with an overflowing inbox. Just some of the things on his 'to do list': Maine's transition to proficiency-based diplomas for high school graduates, the second year of those controversial report cards for Maine schools, adopting the national common core standards, more charter schools in Maine and trying to rework the state's school funding formula. How are Maine's schools today? How will the changes affect Maine kids, and will they better prepare us for the future?

The push to get proficiency-based education into more New England high schools got a boost this week, when 55 public universities in five states endorsed this hands-on approach to learning. Under proficiency-based systems, students need to continuously show that they're mastering key skills in their subjects throughout their high school careers. Proponents say the stamp of approval from public universities and community colleges will mean a more seamless postsecondary transition for students who've been educated this way.

Most Maine high schools say they need more time to begin awarding diplomas based on proficiency and not seat time or credit hours. Last week, the state gave high schools the option to complete this work by 2020, instead of 2018. A handful, though, don't need any extension.

The story of how Searsport District High School became a leader in proficiency-based learning began, as many education reform experiments do, after the school kind of hit bottom. In 1997, Searsport lost its accreditation as a high school. Six years later, the school got thrown a lifeline.

Maine high schools will now have a little more time to transition to awarding diplomas earned by demonstrating subject matter proficiency. A 2012 law made it mandatory for all high schools to begin handing out proficiency-based diplomas by the year 2018. But many districts have told the state that they need more time to make the teaching, curriculum and school culture changes that come with a shift to proficiency-based education. The state Department of Education decided this week to give it to them.