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LePage, Education and the NEA: Why Mischaracterize to Criticize?

When I picked up copy of the latest NEA Higher Education Advocate, I came across this snippet regarding Maine Governor Paul LePage in an article titled “The 10 Worst Governors:”

LePage cut education funding by $12.5 million while handing out $200 million tax cuts that mostly benefitted Maine's wealthiest.  If you want a good education in Maine, go to a private school.  If you can't afford it, tough luck.

The placement of LePage’s quote next to a description of education cuts suggests a particular meaning for the quote: that Governor LePage wants kids in Maine who can’t afford private school to have a bad education.

But read an article written by Maine’s affiliate of the National Education Association, the MEA, and you’ll see that Paul LePage was making a different point altogether:

“On Friday, Nov. 9 Governor LePage shot a few more rounds at educators…

“He said, ‘Until the Legislature and the governor sit down and say what’s best for students, we’re not going to change our schools.’

“At the MEA we believe when decisions are made that will benefit students, educators will be a part of the discussion. The educator voice is imperative in curriculum and professional debates, discussions and decisions. We also believe that the next session of the Legislature will be more supportive of educators and the inclusion of educators’ voices as we work together to benefit our students.

“LePage went on to say charter school legislation and implementation is a step in the right direction. MEA respectfully disagrees. Charter schools will only hurt public schools by funneling off taxpayer money at a time when the state has not reached the 55% mandated resources. The promise, voted on by Maine’s voters years ago, has yet to be kept and continues to limit school opportunities. Adding charter schools into this will cause budget woes for school boards, force schools and faculties to face insecure futures and impact the quality of education we can provide to our students.

“But most insulting was his statement, ‘If you want a good education in Maine, go to a private school. If you can’t afford it, tough luck.’ Once again Governor LePage is caught in a bald faced lie discrediting public schools. Maine’s schools produce successful students statewide yet the Governor and Education Commissioner Bowen continue to push their private school agenda.

“The Governor believes that Maine’s schools should be privatized and should be run by for-profit, out-of-state corporations. Public schools belong in our communities and should be overseen by taxpayers – not by corporations. Our students and parents benefit from local public schools. Our educators work hard, provide outstanding opportunities to students and go above and beyond. The MEA loves Maine’s educators. We stand behind you and all the good work you do.”

What LePage was saying at the time was not that Maine kids should have bad educations. He was claiming that Maine kids in public schools currently were getting bad educations, and that they could get better educations if public schools were privatized.

I don’t agree with LePage’s assessment of Maine public schools. I don’t agree with him that privatization is a good policy solution. But I also don’t agree with the choice by the NEA to accomplish a cheap shot through mischaracterization. A national association of educators should know better.

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