For any Rip Van Winkle’s out there, or for anyone wanting a quick review of the absurdity that is the LePage administration, Colin Woodard has a new article out in Politico, “How Did Mild-Mannered Maine Get America’s Craziest Governor? Paul LePage, Explained.”
Two recent opinion pieces provide important context for the recent release of a A to F grading system that the LePage administration is now using to stigmatize many public schools:
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.
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.”.
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 . . . ” (Bangor Daily News)
“Governor Enraged During Meeting with Local Legislators” (The Republican Journal)
“Independents Recall Rocky Meeting with LePage” (Portland Press Herald
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)
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.”
One aspect of last week’s press conference — the part in which the governor threw charter commission members under the bus — got all the attention. However, now that charter members have picked themselves up and dusted themselves off, it’s worth looking back at what else the governor said.
As evidenced below, the press conference (uncommmon in recent months) is a glimpse of a man who has lost control of his message and — we say this in seriousness — may be losing his mind. Precedent has led us to accept statements such as the below from LePage without too much surprise, but in any other time or place, such statements would be cause for concern
1. LePage stated that Maine’s schools are failing. Blatant Lie. LePage made no reference to back up his claim. By most accounts, including recent test results, Maine schools are above average. As noted by the Portland Press Herald recent reports have ranked Maine schools in the B and C range. The recent Michelle Rhee report did score Maine a D, but it is important to note that was not a quality ranking of student achievement Maine schools but rather a ranking based on how well the Maine’s schools structurally met certain criteria such as inclusion of parents and evaluation of teachers.
2. He threatened to reduce funding to Maine schools. Displaced aggression. He is angry at the Charter Commission but it is unclear why he is now threatening to hurt Maine students to the tune of $63 million as a retaliatory measure.
3. He states Maine schools are ranked 49th in the nation. Blatant Lie. This statement by LePage has absolutely no basis in fact. There is no published study in which Maine schools rank anywhere near that poorly.
4. He suggested that when Puerto Rico becomes a state, they will beat us in terms of education. Blatant Lie. Again, referring to #3 above, there is no factual basis for this statement. According to one source, 95% of public school students in Puerto Rico graduate at a sub-basic level while 60% do not even graduate.
5. The governor stated that Maine teachers are underpaid. Irrelevant / inane / off-message. Another statement that is apropos of nothing. LePage has proposed no legislation related to this measure. One who believed the above might logically reach the conclusion that we need stronger teachers unions to reach the goal of higher pay.
6. LePage continued to build that myth that anyone who does not agree with his educational philosophy “does not care about kids.” Oversimplification. Obviously there are many many schools of thought in education — and the vast majority of people understand that various other philosophies have value.
LePage to charter school commission members: ‘Please go away.’
With headlines like the above, what more can you say?
Paul LePage’s response to the Charter School Commission who refused to rubber stamp charter school applications was to try to intimidate them into leaving their posts. Ironically, he criticized them as being too easily intimidated.
LePage apparently has no problem with intimidation, as long as it is being done by him.
This is not the first time he has criticized and attempted to intimidate the Charter School Commission. He criticized the commission back in June for not acting at a pace that was to his liking, stating in a letter written at that time, ““If any members of the commission are not up to meeting the state’s expectations, I urge their resignation.”
Two of the four applications were for virtual charter schools who would have been affiliated with K12 and Connections Learning. two huge online learning corporations with reputations that are controversial at best.
18 months ago, Maine Republicans pushed through legislation allowing up to ten charter schools in the state. Now LePage wants more of them.
” . . . Once you welcome in the Trojan horse of school choice, the idea that each child is entitled to a quality education by certified teachers at an accredited public school becomes harder to justify.”
Undoubtedly, LePage’s unrelenting disparagement of Maine public schools has been for the purpose of laying the groundwork for this initiative. No matter that Maine public schools have a pretty strong record when compared to those in other states. No matter that reports on the effectiveness charter schools are mixed at best. No matter that there is no money (NO MONEY) for creating new schools while continuing to support the existing ones. This at a time in which the state is mired in a budget fiasco that gets worse by the week.
Which brings us to Exhibit A, New Hampshire — a state whose charter school and virtual charter school programs have been around for a while. As the New Hampshire case shows, once you welcome in the Trojan horse of school choice, the idea that each child is entitled to a quality education by certified teachers in an accredited public school becomes harder to justify. Somebody else can do it more cheaply — and that is where the students and the money will ultimately go.
In Manchester, New Hampshire, as a recent New York Times article shows, parents are up in arms because students are losing their access to courses taught by real teachers and instead are finding themselves taking online courses offered by the state-approved virtual charter school.
New Hampshire has found the sledding to be slick. If Paul LePage gets what he wants, YouTube U. as a replacement for public education as we know it will be just a slippery slope away.