When LePage opposed using charter school funding for political purposes

Good morning from Augusta where the sun has dawned on what could be the calm before the storm. (I’m talking about a political storm tomorrow, not the rainstorm we had yesterday.)

Tomorrow is the day that the Legislature returns to finish up consideration of a handful of bills for this session, along with dozens of vetoes by Gov. Paul LePage. He issued 31 vetoes on Friday alone. You can see images of those veto letters by clicking here

Today is LePage’s deadline to veto the biennial state budget. Lawmakers have already pushed back LePage’s 64 line-item vetoes on the General Fund budget without so much as a minute of debate, but the veto override vote represents one last chance for lawmakers who don’t like it to say so. With just hours left until the end of the fiscal year, though, such talk will be dangerous in light of a state government shutdown and will likely be discouraged by Legislative leaders who spent weeks, days and hours forging a compromise that is so far holding together. 

Adding to Tuesday’s drama is a recent scandal that has dominated the political landscape since last week: LePage’s use of a threat to withhold state funding from Good Will-Hinckley in order to force the organization to fire Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick, who was to become its president on July 1. There was talk of impeachment proceedings last week but those have subsided somewhat in favor of some sort of investigation by the Legislature, likely through its non-partisan watchdog arm, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. 

Adding to the drama is a budding plan for a large-scale citizen rally at the State House on Tuesday. The next two days are going to be interesting, folks. — Christopher Cousins 

When LePage opposed using charter school funding for political purposes

Since Maine’s charter school law was enacted in LePage’s first term in office, there has been a lot of debate about how those schools are funded. At first, the money came from a per-student allocation that charter students’ sending schools paid. Most lawmakers thought that was an undue burden and this year, the Legislature enacted a measure to spread the cost of charter schools across the entire state.

Anyway, between then and now, there have been attempts to put funding for charter schools in its own silo, separate from the pool of General Purpose Aid money the state uses to fund traditional public schools. Opponents of creating this dedicated stream of charter funding have argued, successfully so far, that the measure would put charter funding at risk of political whims. Those opponents include LePage, who wrote the following in his 2013 veto of LD 1057, which sought to establish a dedicated funding stream for charter schools:

“…This bill is another attempt to destroy public charter schools in Maine by a thousand cuts. The Department of Education worked in good faith with the sponsor to come up with a compromise, a compromise which was rejected in order to force public charter schools to be funded through a separate line item in the budget. This would allow a legislature to target charter schools — and the options that they provide students — by reducing the funds they have available. That is simply not something I can support.”

LD 1057 died after override of LePage’s veto failed on July 9, 2013.

Hat-tip to Democratic Rep. Brian Hubbell of Bar Harbor, who sits on the Legislature’s Education Committee and is his party’s point man on education issues, for pointing this out. He is not among the lawmakers who are talking about impeachment but favors further investigation into whether LePage’s threat to pull funding from Good Will-Hinckley was a breach of law.

“The point of the charter school structure is it’s supposed to protect those schools from the Legislature and the governor being able to dictate their funding,” said Hubbell. “I think this represents a new category of abuse from the governor and it concerns me a great deal because he’s trying to influence the private operations of a charter school.” — Christopher Cousins

Channelling Margaret Chase Smith

A group of citizens has used social media such as Facebook over the past few days to organize a noontime rally Tuesday at the State House. According to organizers, the rally has been organized in the spirit of former Republican U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, who in 1950 made a Declaration of Conscience on the floor of the U.S. Senate to denounce fellow Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his witch-hunt for communists.

The rally, which will feature speeches from lawmakers, including some of the group who last week were calling for LePage’s impeachment, is being organized by Rebecca Halbrook of Phippsburg and Cushing Samp of Saco.

It will be interesting to see how many people show up and where they come from. While a chorus is growing in favor of LePage — at least as far as his ousting of Eves goes — a much louder one is growing against how he used funding for at-risk Maine kids to accomplish it. However, that latter group is seeing divisions within itself: those who are talking about impeachment and those who aren’t. — Christopher Cousins

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Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.