The Universal Notebook: The governor flunketh

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Gov. Paul LePage has nothing but contempt for public education, public school teachers and administrators and public school students. A man possessed of the worst combination of ignorance and arrogance, he seems to have no idea of the damage he does every time he opens his big mouth and badmouths Maine education.

“I don’t care where you go in the country,” LePage told the world back in July, “if you come from Maine you’re looked down upon.”

Well, if Mainers are looked down upon, Mr. LePage, it is because we elected a dunce governor.

Then in November, he went off again, advising Maine students, “If you want a good education, go to an academy. If you want a good education, go to private schools. If you can’t afford it, tough luck. You can go to the public school.”

LePage himself supposedly went to Lewiston High School, Husson College and the University of Maine, but he shows no signs of being an educated person, so all three institutions clearly failed him.

Now LePage is ticked off at the Maine Education Association, Maine School Management Association and Maine Charter School Commission, because the commission just turned down four out of five recent proposals to start charter schools.

LePage blames the MEA and MSMA for the commission’s decisions, going so far as to demand that those members who refuse to do his bidding “please go away.” And his Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen echoes his boss by saying, “There’s obviously a problem here.”

The “obvious problem,” Mr. Bowen, is that neither you nor LePage believes in public education.

All you really need to know about ultra-conservative reactionaries like LePage and Bowen is that they will try to turn government functions over to private industry every chance they get. And that’s why LePage is pissed – neither the Legislature nor the charter school commission will let him sell public education in Maine to private corporations.

As I explained in this column way back in February 2011, Stephen Bowen came to the Department of Education straight from the ideological sandbox of the Maine Heritage Policy Center with an agenda of turning public education over to charter schools and replacing hands-on, in-school learning with digital learning – virtual schools that are not schools at all.

In an important series of articles in the Portland newspapers back in September 2012, reporter Colin Woodard detailed exactly what I had suggested – how Bowen takes his marching orders from right-wing groups like MHPC, American Legislative Exchange Council and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and “educational” corporations such as K12 Inc. and Connections Education.

LePage and Bowen were rebuffed by the Legislature when they proposed allowing state tax dollars to pay for religious schools. They were successful, however, in passing charter school legislation that took effect in 2011. The Maine Charter School Commission, led by Republican businesswoman Jana Lapoint of Falmouth – not some socialist union organizer – is authorized to approve 10 charter schools in its first decade of operation and it has already approved five.

So what is LePage ranting and raving about? A petty tyrant, he goes ballistic any time he doesn’t get his own way, but what his latest tirades are about is the fact that the charter school commission has turned down proposals by the virtual school corporations that contributed to his campaign.

Though LePage claims to “put students first,” what he wants is for Maine kids to sit alone at laptop computers being fed curricula generated by these educational corporations, a methodology that has failed miserably everywhere it has been tried. But it’s cheaper for the state and it makes money for business.

You should know intuitively, and the evidence is there empirically, that virtual education is not real education and charter schools are not better than public schools. All that virtual schools and charter schools accomplish is taking away local control and instituting corporate control. They also help their investors get rich off taxpayer subsidies the way former Republican Gov. Jock McKernan did at Education Management Corp. Stephen Bowen will no doubt wind up shilling for one of these shadowy virtual school groups when LePage gets dumped in 2014.

There is a place for public charter schools in Maine, but they need to be locally controlled non-profits, not out-of-state profiteers. The fact that LePage is angry at it should tell you that the Maine Charter School Commission is doing a good job of protecting Maine students against the ruinous, self-serving agenda of our unqualified education commissioner and our renegade governor.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.