Maine GOP plan to continue focus on “school choice,” race and LGBTQ books and curriculum in schools

Republican lawmakers plan to push again for so-called “school choice” and more parental control over what schools teach.

Senate Republicans signaled Tuesday that they plan to continue to focus on education issues that were prominent during last year’s Maine and national campaigns.

Senator James Libby of Standish, who teaches at Thomas College and Colby College, plans to introduce a school choice law modeled on a new law in Arizona that would allow parents to use state funds to send their children to private schools or public schools in others to send cities. While Libby says competition leads to better schools, opponents argue that school choice primarily benefits wealthier families and only undermines poorer schools.

Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, told reporters Tuesday that she wants to make it easier for parents to know what books are available in classrooms and libraries. Keim, the Senate Minority Deputy Leader, has introduced legislation dealing with “Transparency in Public School Curriculum” and “Parents’ Rights in Education,” though the text of those bills is not yet available. But Keim said parents should be able to find information on a school’s website about books used in class or available in the library.

“We live in a busy world. We need to make sure it’s easy for parents to get that information and be able to quickly say, ‘Ok, I like that, I don’t like that,’ and work with their teachers and their local school board,” Keim said. “Im At the moment it is difficult for them to know what is actually used for textbooks and for this type of curriculum.”

But in Maine, decisions about curriculum and books to include in libraries are already being made at the local level, not by the state. While the Maine Department of Education offers guidance and optional resources, there is no state requirement that schools teach about gender issues or sexual orientation.

The curriculum of instruction has been gripped by the political and cultural wars of race, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity across the country. Some parents are pushing to ban controversial books dealing with sexual situations and gender identity, citing the need for new “parental rights” over what their children are being taught. But education officials, as well as LGBTQ advocates, have accused conservatives of trying to silence freedom of expression while trying to ban educational and, in some cases, literary works that reflect a more inclusive and accepting society.

This debate has played out in several cities, where school boards have either accepted or rejected parental demands to ban certain books, which often deal with gender-based and sexual content. And in many school districts, parents can already request that their children be removed from class if they deem it inappropriate, or flag specific books not to remove their children from the library.

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