The LePage Plan to Shrink Public Education in Maine — A Progress Report

The governor’s plan in a nutshell is to shrink (if not eliminate) public education in Maine. The strategy:

(1) Repeatedly denigrate public schools in order to create a negative public opinion of schools. Done.
(2) Concoct a “grading system” that will, by design and regardless of their actual performance, grade a sizable percentage of Maine schools as “D” and “F.” Done.
(3) Support legislation that opens the door to charter schools and online learning corporations. Done.
(4) Starve public schools financially by diverting public funds from public schools to private and virtual schools. (In progress).
(5) Create widespread budget crises in Maine towns by eliminating revenue sharing. (In progress).
(5) Advocate for “school choice” and use #2 above to drive enrollment — and financial support — from certain schools (mostly schools serving our neediest students in economically depressed parts of the state) and toward corporate virtual schools and charter schools. (In progress).

The irony is that if LePage gets his way, “choice” for many Maine families will be diminished rather than enhanced. Many rural schools will shrink or close outright and parents will be faced with transporting their kids to distant schools, enrolling them in an for-profit virtual schools, or moving to another area of the state. Kids from poor families, who already have too few choices, will have fewer choices still.

It’s Hard to Notice the Climate Changing When Your Head is in the Sand

A lengthy Colin Woodard article in today’s Portland Press Herald examines the current situation in which the LePage administration has halted all planning for climate change (and the intensified storms that are the result) and in which Democrats want to pass legislation that would require Maine to develop such plans.

Previously we have posted about the LePage administrations head-in-the-sand relationship with our environment here.

LePage Spins Schoolkids, Bashes Newspapers

As reported in the BDN and Maine Sunday Telegram, Paul LePage spent part of Friday morning complaining to a captive audience of schoolkids that his greatest fear is of newspapers and that he is “not a fan of newspapers.”

Later, he stated to a reporter that newspapers “spin the news” rather than providing reporting that is “fair and objective.”

This follows comments from last March in which LePage said, also to students, “Reading newspapers in the state of Maine is like paying somebody to tell you lies.”

It’s interesting to note that the careers of Republicans such as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have not been likewise incapacitated by the alleged liberal bias of Maine newspapers.

Mr. “Fair and Balanced” (who not so long ago stated “If you want a good education, go to a private school,”) also said that private schools such as the one he spoke at Friday were “showing the rest of the people in Maine that you’re getting the best education, and every child in Maine deserves to have the same good education that you’re all getting.”

Meanwhile, this week’s news about charter schools, the holy grail by which LePage hopes to transform education in this state, is not particularly rosy.  A New York Times article provides further evidence that overall, despite their costs, charter schools have failed to provide promised benefits.  A Washington Post article details the mounting evidence on how online learning corporations are being let in through back doors to write state legislation that subsequently opens the front doors to corporate profits.

Paul LePage doesn’t want you to read that stuff, however.  Just tune in to his weekly Saturday morning radio address and he will tell you all that you need to know.

Ranked Choice Voting — A Cure for What Ails Us

Received this petition via email today.  Please sign and pass it on if you agree that our system should ensure candidates for legislature and governor are not elected “by accident,” but rather have the support of the majority of Maine people.  The city of Portland is already using ranked choice voting.

“Maine politicians should be elected with a majority vote. Please join me in supporting Rep. Diane Russell’s bill to elect the Governor and Legislature with Ranked Choice Voting (AKA Instant Runoff Voting). Her bill encourages voter choice while avoiding “spoiler” candidates.”

If you agree and wish to sign the petition, please click here.:

Edgar Allen Beam’s recent opinion piece on ranked choice voting is here.

The LePage “Tax Cut for the Poor” — A First Class Farce

The self-proclaimed signature accomplishment of the LePage administration has been the $433 million tax cut, which Paul LePage has often defended by stating it is a “tax cut for the poor.”

When challenged on his tax cuts, LePage is quick to bring up the 70,000 Maine residents who no longer pay state income tax due to legislation enacted in the last two years..

Thanks to figures from the Maine Center for Economic Policy, we now have a more clear picture of how much life has improved for those 70,000. Let’s imagine a twenty-something single female working 35 hours a week at minimum wage.  Thanks to the LePage tax cut, she now has a grand total of — get this — $7.00 per year of additional spending money.  Seven dollars.  Per year.  According to MHPC, those earning twice as much only benefit to the tune of $50.00 per year.  That’s one dollar per week.

Don’t spend it all at once.

The point is that the members of that nameless, faceless 70,000 were paying almost nothing in taxes to begin with.

So LePage has cut health insurance benefits, prescription benefits, and child care benefits for these folks, but hey, they have that extra $7.00 in their pockets, so they should be thankful, right?

The LePage administration tax cut for the poor is a first class farce — and nothing more.

To read more, please see Joel Johnson’s recent BDN opinion piece, “Maine’s Avoidable Budget Crisis.”.

Bashing Public Education Every Chance They Get

Anyone else becoming weary of the parade of national rankings giving Maine poor grades?

Don’t jump off a bridge yet, however.  The recent “National Council of Teacher Quality” rankings, which awarded Maine a D+ for teacher training, make a useful little case study of the political gamesmanship that is going on.  According to the BDN article on the rankings,  the D+ grade is actually a slight improvement over Maine’s grade last year and places Maine in the middle of the pack nationally.

A little digging shows that Barbara O’Brien, current chair of the National Council of Teacher Quality is an active member of ALEC, the ultra-conservative, corporate-sponsored organization that would like nothing better than to see public education itself dry up and blow away.

While the recommendations of the Council, such as raising the bar for entrance into teacher training programs, are not without merit, the agenda that looms behind the report casts such a huge shadow that it truly renders the report useless.  This is a case in which one would be better off not reading the news at all.

The ALEC strategy (frequently and guilelessly carried out by our governor) seems to involve saying bad things about public schools at every opportunity, in order to create a climate in which charter schools and virtual schools might be seen as more attractive.

The recent Michelle Rhee/Students First ranking is another example of an agenda-driven organization releasing highly negative rankings intended to push states toward adoption of a corporate agenda.

An ironic little sidenote is that our accidental governor, who earnestly intends to be in lockstep with ALEC, not so long ago stated that he wanted to relax standards for teacher certification and allow those with content knowledge but no teaching degree to teach.

LePage Swears, Storms Out of Meeting

News Coverage
“LePage Swears, Storms Out of Meeting . . . ”
(Bangor Daily News)
“Governor Enraged During Meeting with Local Legislators” (The Republican Journal)
“Independents Recall Rocky Meeting with LePage” (Portland Press Herald

Opinion:
Bill Nemitz:  A Letter to LePage, the Tigerhearted (Portland Press Herald)
“LePage Cannot Walk Alone” (Bangor Daily News)
“Governor’s Budget Reveals Things He Probably Didn’t Intend”
(Kennebec Journal)

LeMan, LeMyths, LePage

Maine Governor Paul LePage has worked hard to spread the myth that we need to shrink Medicaid before the state’s economy can improve.  It is ironic to see New Hampshire (a state often lauded by LePage) moving in the exact opposite direction.  New Hampshire recently commissioned a report that concludes, as stated by Gov. Maggie Hassan,  “ . . . Expanding Medicaid will help the state by injecting federal money, creating jobs and reducing the amount of uncompensated care at hospitals.”

Another myth LePage has been worked hard to create is that the Charter School Commission is not doing its job.  Bill Nemitz explains the very legitimate reasons for the Charter School Commission’s denial of four of the five applications.

A myth that has been central to LePage’s political agenda is that we need to reduce taxes on the wealthy or they will flee the state for lower tax states.  Interesting to read that an extensive study by the Stanford Center on Poverty & Equality in California concludes that the millionaire migration myth is just that — a myth: “The result of all that data crunching? The migration of millionaires in and out of the state has almost no relationship to tax increases or tax cuts.”