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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.

Maine Community College System Hikes Tuition

May 29, 2014

The University of Maine isn't the only public, post-secondary, educational system in the state facing financial challenges. At a meeting this afternoon, trustees of the Maine Community College System voted to increase tuition by $2 per credit hour for the next school year.

Sex Ed

May 28, 2014

  It's the conversation many parents, and their children, dread having: reproduction and sexual education. Learn ways to broach the topic of sex and talk about it.

University of Maine

After three years on the job, University of Maine President Paul Ferguson is heading west - to Indiana. The board of trustees at Ball State University selected Ferguson at a meeting this afternoon, bringing to an end what's been described as an "exhaustive" five-month search for a new president.

Ferguson has been the president of the University of Maine since 2011. Before that, he was provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and a professor of pharmacology and toxicology.

They relied on a patchwork fix of deep cuts, layoffs and savings, but the trustees for the University of Maine System were still unable to develop a plan that will completely close a $36 million-dollar structural gap in next year's $529 million operating budget. Instead, the board voted to use one-time money from reserve accounts to buy the administration a little more time to develop a budget fix that addresses declining enrollments and higher operating costs at the system's seven university campuses.

Jay Field

Walker School in Liberty made impressive gains over the past year. The school's grade on it's 2014 state report card jumped from a D to a B. Thanks to budget cuts, Walker now shares its principal with another elementary school in the district, Regional School Unit 3. Troy Central School moved from an F to a D this year. According to the state, it's still struggling. But a visit to Troy revealed the same kind of energy and programs in place that eventually allowed Walker School to become more successful.

The latest round of school report cards, released today by the Maine Department of Education, show a majority of schools still struggling to meet the LePage administration's standards for improvement. More than 150 Maine schools received lower grades from the state this year versus last, while nearly 100 schools boosted their scores at least one letter grade.

Overall this year, there were fewer As and Bs and more Ds and Fs, while the majority of schools got a C.

When last year's grades came out, educators across the state railed at Gov. Paul LePage. The governor, they complained, was labeling schools as failing - without offering enough context on the challenges, socio-economic and otherwise, that can get in the way of learning and contribute to low test scores.

Reading Proficiency

Feb 4, 2014

Reading Proficiency Edit | Remove

  A new report shows that only 1/3 of Maine 4th graders read proficiently. A panel of experts will discuss tips, techniques and book recommendations to foster a love of reading that lasts a lifetime.

Host Keith Shortall was joined by 

Claire Berkowitz, Executive Director, Maine Children’s Alliance

  The University of Maine is unveiling a program to get adults who didn't finish their college degree to get back to school.

Host Jennifer Rooks was joined by 

University of Maine chancellor James Page 

University of Maine at Augusta president Allyson Handley 

Student John Miller

School Absenteeism

Jan 8, 2014

School Absenteeism Edit | Remove

  A panel of Educators discussed ways of addressing the problem of school absenteeism. What is the link between elementary school attendance and high school graduation rates, and what is being done to keep kids in school, to combat chronic absenteeism, and to make parents, and those in the school system, more accountable for having school age children make it to class.

Host Jennifer Rooks was joined by