Flunking out

Politics + Other Mistakes  
By AL DIAMON  |  August 15, 2012

I'm surprised Republican Governor Paul LePage hasn't stumbled over the obvious solution to reforming Maine's education system:

Turn control of the state's schools over to former GOP governor John "Jock" McKernan.

McKernan, who occupied the Blaine House (although not with anywhere near the same fervor as recently convicted Occupy Maine protestors) from 1987 to 1995, is a big shot in the world of for-profit higher education. Since 2006, he's served as chairman of the board of Education Management Corp., the Pittsburgh-based owner of more than 100 schools, many of which operate under the Art Institutes brand name.

While it's true McKernan is being shunted aside as EMC shakes up its executive offices in the wake of major declines in its stock price (it recently closed at less than four bucks a share, after finishing last year at nearly $28), he's still a member of the board and has valuable experience in how to turn a modest investment in TV ads aimed at gullible slackers into a $1.8 billion annual windfall of federal education cash.

LePage has frequently said that Maine schools waste money on small class sizes, unneeded facilities, and top-heavy administration. No one has ever leveled similar charges against Education Management (although congressional investigators have complained that over 60 percent of its students drop out without completing their studies, thereby wasting the taxpayer money they borrowed to finance their schooling).

"Clearly, the status quo in education is not working," LePage said in a statement last month.

He was referring to public schools, not EMC.

Here's how the scam — I mean, the reform — could work in Maine. All the state's public schools, from pre-kindergarten to the law school, would be privatized. A new company would be formed (it could be called something catchy like the Three Rs Institutes) to run them. All current teachers and administrators would become employees of that operation.

Did I say "all"? Sorry, slip of the tongue, due to my drooling over the impending tax savings from not having to pay for schools. New Commissioner of Education McKernan would be free to fire as many of those employees as necessary to make the numbers work. And by numbers, I don't mean the old standard of assessing schools according to national test scores.

I'm talking about the bottom line.

Parents who wanted to enroll their children in the new educational system would apply for federal loans to cover the cost. Paying off those debts should be easy, since their state and local tax bills would be sharply reduced once there was no longer any need for public revenue for schools. And the new private facilities would be cheaper, anyway, because they wouldn't be wasting funds on costly frills such as special education (which would consist of large-screen televisions and industrial-strength doses of Ritalin), individual instruction (if you have a question, email your instructor in Pittsburgh), advanced placement (elitist propaganda), and accreditation (stifles creative solutions, such as requiring enrollees to perform 20 hours of unpaid janitorial services each week in order to graduate).

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