Why LePage’s blue ribbon education commission is so important

Welcome to Augusta, where today there is a major shortage of Republicans because many of them are in Bangor for their annual state convention.

I’m headed out of state for the weekend so you won’t have to put up with my reporting on the event. The BDN’s able Michael Shepherd will be there and is planning wall-to-wall coverage. If you’ve been paying attention, he’s already ushered you up the learning curve with his analyses of what to expect and how GOP leaders hope to influence the choosing of delegates to the national convention.

I’ll repeat those stories below in case you’re a little slow on the uptake this morning. I sure am. I was up watching YouTube videos until after midnight. 

In case you’re in some crazy subset of people who are dying to know when the Democratic State Convention is but don’t already know, here you go: It’s May 6 and 7 in Portland, but let’s get through the GOP’s event before we start talking about the Democrats. Deal?

I hope so. This is my blog and I’ll make the deals here. — Christopher Cousins

Blue Ribbon education commission is more important than you think

I know what you’re thinking: “Seriously, another study group in Augusta?” I feel your pain. A lot of study groups come and go in Augusta, many of them born from a lack of political will or agreement to enact legislation. This one may be different.

The commission was called for earlier this year in a compromise between Gov. Paul LePage and lawmakers in the Legislature, which funneled $15 million in new money to public schools to partially cover a funding shortfall for some districts that was caused by a decrease in property values statewide. LePage agreed to the funding — which was taken from his coveted year-end revenue surplus — with the commission as a condition.

LePage considers himself an education reformer and after intense focus in that area during his first two years in office, he has said publicly that he’ll mark the final two years of his tenure as governor with a renewed push on education reform. The state’s vastly complex school funding formula has been tinkered on for years, but some say it needs major reform so it’s more equitable for urban and rural schools, less susceptible to dips and rises in the economy and more able to accommodate an influx of charter schools into the state.

The commission, which was named on Thursday, includes some heavy hitters ranging from legislative leaders to high-profile superintendents to the top officials in the state’s university and community college systems. You can see the full list by clicking here. The commission is tasked with developing recommendations by the end of the year, setting the stage for a new push on education funding to begin when the 128th Legislature is seated in January.

This is one study commission you should definitely pay attention to. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • While Maine scrambles to react to a tragic rise in heroin addiction, so is the federal government. Members of our congressional delegation have announced numerous ways they are working on the problem in recent months. The most recent effort is the proposed allocation of $132 million to heroin eradication, which received unanimous support in the Senate Appropriations Committee but still faces votes the full Senate and House. According to Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who is a member of the committee, there is additional funding for anti-heroin task forces, prevention and treatment programs and prescription drug monitoring.
  • As you read in yesterday’s Daily Brief, LePage is making headlines with his veto of a bill that would allow Narcan — an opioid overdose antidote — to be sold in pharmacies over the counter. Also among a batch of vetoes issued this week was one for LD 1540, which would remove age limits in laws regarding sexual contact between students and teachers. LePage wrote that he vetoed the bill to protect 22-year-olds who marry 18-year-old high school students and then become teachers at that high school. “If the couple were to have a child … this bill would affect the parental rights of the teacher by treating the teacher as if they had been convicted of gross sexual assault.”

Reading list

Why it matters when musicians die

Every time a celebrity dies and there’s a big outpouring of grief, there are people who say the reaction is overblown and that we should have celebrated the person’s life when they were alive. Those people annoy me. After all, as the saying goes, we’re not celebrating a musician because we know them but rather because they helped us know ourselves.

Prince’s death on Thursday hit a lot of people hard and it’s because he fit the word “icon” as closely as did anyone. Like many others, I spent hours listening to his music on Thursday, but I kept coming back to this all-star performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to celebrate George Harrison at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Prince shows up about halfway through with his beloved Fender Telecaster and, well, it’s so good that it’s painful to watch knowing the Purple Reign is over.

I also discovered another YouTube video taken from a James Brown concert in 1983, which illustrates better than the others what made Prince so special. Brown invites Michael Jackson on stage, who in turn asks Brown to call Prince up.

It doesn’t work out so well for Prince, in a way. He commandeers a guitar from Brown’s guitarist, but it’s not set up for a solo and things get awkward for a few minutes. Prince gives up the guitar and decides to take off his shirt and do a few microphone stand stunts, upstaging James and MJ in the process.

“And that’s all he does,” said my pal Michael Shepherd, who found this video. “Amazing.”

Indeed. — Christopher Cousins





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.