LePage calls Maine’s student laptop program a ‘massive failure’

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage has reinforced previous statements that a focus in the final two years of his tenure will be K-12 education.

During an appearance Thursday at the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, LePage highlighted improvements that have been made under his administration in the state’s education system, ranging from high school students having expanded ability to earn college credits to new credit-transfer pathways between the community college and university systems.

“I’m extremely proud of the work [Maine Community College System President Derek Langhauser] is doing and the work of the community college system,” said LePage to applause from the audience of entrepreneurs.

However, there is more work to be done, said LePage, including improving the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, which since 2002 has provided laptop computers or computer tablets to every seventh- and eighth-grade student in Maine. It was implemented by former independent Gov. Angus King and currently equips about 66,000 students and teachers in Maine with devices at a cost of about $11.5 million a year.

The Maine Department of Education renewed its contract with Apple Corp. earlier this year after an internal discussion about whether to continue the program at all. Along with the new contract was a call by LePage to inspect the program with an eye toward improving it. Whether that could lead to a curtailment of the program or ending it remains to be seen, but LePage was clear Thursday that he won’t support it without changes.

“It has been a massive failure,” said LePage. “It’s been a failure and we all know it but we keep doing it because we’re used to doing it.”

LePage said the reason he judges the program a failure is because there is not enough training for students and teachers about how to maximize the educational benefits of the technology.

“We don’t provide the expertise to teach the kids how to use it properly and our teachers aren’t properly trained in it,” said LePage, who added that the new contract with Apple includes new training opportunities.

“We should have been doing that 15 years ago,” he said, in another of his many recent digs at King, who made the program a centerpiece of his legacy as governor.

Department of Education officials have said that major changes to the program are likely in the next two years.

“We’ve got to stand back and have a broad discussion among educators, not to give up on MLTI at all but to shift resources,” said Bill Beardsley, deputy education commissioner, to the BDN in August. “We’re going to spend a year really trying to see what’s next.” –– Christopher Cousins

GOP files ethics complaint in Thibodeau re-election bid

The Maine Republican Party on Thursday asked the Maine Ethics Commission to investigate the activities of the California-based Progressive Kick Political Action Committee to determine whether it is illegally coordinating with Democratic Maine Senate candidate Jonathan Fulford, who is trying to unseat Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau in Senate District 10 in Waldo County.

In September, as reported here at State & Capitol, Progressive Kick formed a PAC in Maine called Progressive Maine with the stated purposes of helping Fulford win the seat and backing all five referendums on the Nov. 8 ballot. The California Super-PAC plunked down $50,000 to be spent on local organizers to lead canvassing efforts.

Fulford, a publicly financed candidate, told the Bangor Daily News that he has had no contact with the California organization — which is in step with campaign finance laws — and denounced the organization pouring money into his race.

Maine GOP Executive Director Jason Savage, citing a Facebook post by Fulford, said in a letter to the ethics commission that he doesn’t know all the facts in the matter but requested a “thorough investigation.”

Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne said Friday morning that he has received the complaint and is in the process of scheduling a commission meeting to address it.

The Thibodeau/Fulford race is among the most-watched campaigns for the Maine Legislature. Thibodeau defeated Fulford by just 135 votes in 2014. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • A win for paper: The Securities and Exchange Commission has announced it will back away from a new provision that would have eliminated paper in the delivery of mutual fund shareholder reports. It’s an issue that Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, have been pushing against on the grounds that the new rule would have been bad for Maine’s paper industry and senior citizens and rural residents without reliable internet access. The president of Twin Rivers Paper in Madawaska, which produces the paper used in the reports, applauded the SEC’s decision on Thursday.
  • New Cain ad: Democrat Emily Cain has launched a new television ad touting her jobs record when she served in the Maine Legislature. Among others, the ad features Duane Lugdon of Bradley, a union representative for the United Steelworkers Union who registered as a Democratic candidate for the Maine House in the district represented by Republican Rep. Larry Lockman before dropping out. Watch the ad by clicking here.
  • Medicaid expansion fight, take 6: The Maine Department of Health and Human Services under the LePage administration began its opposition fight to another attempt to expand Medicaid in Maine as the Maine Women’s Lobby and Maine Equal Justice Partners announced Thursday it is launching a citizen petition drive to put the question on a statewide ballot as soon as next year. “A bloated Medicaid system means fewer resources for Maine’s neediest citizens,” said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew in a news release on Thursday.
  • Collins at Harvard: Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Thursday participated in a forum on partisanship and civility in national politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Collins, who was the featured guest at the event, said she viewed partisanship as something that swings back and forth like a pendulum and predicted the parties will shift back toward the center, according to a news release. Watch the wide-ranging discussion for yourself by clicking here.

Reading list

Buying potatoes is hard, I’ve learned

As you read here in the Daily Brief on Wednesday, I’ve been on a rather epic tour of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District this week, the results of which you can read about soon at bangordailynews.com. I’ve made it back home now after some 970 miles on the odometer and I must say I’ve come away with new love for northern Maine. I’ve lived in Maine all my life but never ventured to Aroostook County until five years ago when I was hired by the Bangor Daily News. It’s a beautiful and welcoming place, but it is a different world from most of Maine in many ways.

My western Maine roots showed painfully in one way: buying potatoes. The harvest is on in potato country and every few miles up Routes 1 and 161 are stands advertising “new potatoes.” I asked someone who has lived in The County all her life what a new potato is and boy, did I feel stupid. To my surprise, she ducked into her pantry to show me one but was unable to really define it. It’s a recently picked potato, she said, but then again they are sold at all times of the year.

“I don’t really know,” she said.

On the way home I stopped at one of the stands to buy some but it was self-serve and much more confusing than I thought. There were at least a half dozen potato varieties to choose from and I felt like I feel at the grocery story when I’m trying pick a nice wine for Thanksgiving.

I ended up buying 10 pounds of something labeled “new russets” for only $3 but I have no idea if I’m made a terrible mistake. 

Here’s your soundtrack. — 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.