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For Immediate Release

Date: 01/30/13

Dems Defend Educational Status Quo, Attack Charter Schools Again

Party-line vote in Education Committee provides contrast of D, R views on education

AUGUSTA - The Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee today voted out a measure to curtail funding from charter schools. The vote fell on party lines, 8-5, with all five Republicans opposing the measure.

Department of Education commissioner Stephen Bowen and Department of Administrative and Financial Services commissioner Sawin Millett both testified before the committee. Commissioner Millett had sharp words for Democratic lawmakers, saying that their proposal to curtail funds from charter schools was an "inequitable overreach" and "micromanaging."

"We declined to curtail quasi-governmental groups with very small budgets because it's more trouble than it's worth," explained Millett of the original curtailment proposal. "You (the committee) seem to be focused on a few very small line items" within the context of a $35.5 million curtailment order, he added.

Despite the administrative infeasibility of curtailing such a small amount—Commissioner Bowen's estimates put the figure at a few thousand dollars—Democrats moved forward with their proposal in what committee Republicans feel is a transparently political move.

"There have been so many bills proposed to weaken charter schools at a time when they're just trying to get off the ground," said Rep. Peter Johnson (R-Greenville), Republican Lead on the Education Committee. "We're interested in changing the educational status quo, and charter schools are a part of that effort. Democrats' attempts to defend against reform are very discouraging at a time when students and parents are crying out for choice and change."

Meanwhile, Democrats held up a letter supporting charter school curtailment from Good Will-Hinckley School principal Glenn Cummings, a former Democratic speaker of the Maine House, in their defense.

Rep. Joyce Maker (R-Calais) noted that the former Democratic speaker has important business before the Appropriations Committee, and his letter should be taken within that context. "Mr. Cummings is pragmatic, and he likely felt that if he gives a little here, he'll gain more in the budget process," said Rep. Maker.

"I think it's unfortunate that some are choosing to pick a fight against charter schools right now," said Rep. Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta). "We need to be supporting alternative education, not singling it out for political attacks."

Rep. Michael McClellan (R-Raymond) agreed. "Every time we have tried to do something to break up the educational status quo, Democrats have found an excuse to stand in the way," he said. "That's no way to move Maine's students and economy forward."

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