On recording, Gov. LePage says what he really thinks about Maine schools

Christopher Cousins | BDN

At a conservative event in Falmouth last week, Maine Governor Paul LePage explained his biggest source of embarrassment about Maine’s education system.

“This is the kicker, this is the most embarrassing one: only 25% of the kids who graduate high school in the state of Maine can qualify for the military,” said LePage. “50% fall on academics and 25% fall on physical disabilities. Folks, 50% can’t pass the test.”

“And so, when the unions and I are – and I believe there are two culprits, there are two culprits in education: superintendents and union bosses,” LePage continued, to applause from the crowd.

If you’ve been reading the previous posts about LePage’s statements at this event, you won’t be surprised to learn that his statistics are completely wrong. Unlike his strange comments about millionaires leaving Maine and his assertion that 47% of able-bodied Mainers don’t work, however, the roots of this remark are better known.

The most prominent source for the 75% ineligible statistic is a group of dozens of retired generals, admirals and other military commanders called Mission: Ready that have been working to pinpoint the causes of ineligibility for enlistment in military service.

The 75% number wasn’t a reference to Maine high school graduates, however, but to all young adults in the United States. The main stumbling blocks they cite are the number of young people who fail to graduate high school, the number with criminal records and the effect of the nation’s obesity problem.

According to their reports, the number of Maine high school graduates who don’t score high enough on the military entrance exam is 19%. That’s far lower than the 50% LePage claims and is well below the national average.

While Mission: Ready doesn’t have specific data on the rate of physical disability of Maine high school graduates, they note that a much broader measure of obesity of 10-17 year olds puts Maine at 28%, slightly below the national average of 32%. Additionally, they note that Maine has a lower drop-out rate than the country as a whole and the second lowest rate of incarcerated young people in the United States.

The number one recommendation of the military readiness group for Maine is improved access to early-childhood education, which they make clear in the aptly-titled Maine Report: A Commitment to Pre-Kindergarten Is A Commitment to National Security. This is a particularly interesting fact, given that LePage has attempted to slash Pre-K funding in every budget he has proposed since taking office.

In his first budget, LePage pushed for deep cuts to Head Start. In the end, the Republican Legislature decided to cut $2 million, dropping around 250 low-income children from the program. During the most recent session, LePage again attempted to cut funding, but the Democratic Legislature was actually able to restore money to the program, despite a difficult budget situation.

As part of that budget, the LePage administration was also tasked with recommending to the Legislature an additional $33.75 million in administrative and program savings to balance the budget. They came back with $35.53 million in cuts (almost $2 million extra), including eliminating the state’s $448,875 general fund commitment to Head Start. That’s right, by his own numbers LePage didn’t have to cut early childhood education this time, but he’s trying to do it anyway.

The teachers’ union, which LePage says on the recording is one of the biggest problems with education in Maine has consistently been one of the strongest voices in favor of expanded early childhood education and against the governor’s cuts.

This is not the first time LePage has made inaccurate, denigrating statements about Maine schools.

Download the audio here. This is the seventh clip from the Falmouth event (previous: 1,2,3,4,5,6). More to come.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald