To home-schoolers, Governor outlines comprehensive vision for Maine public education

LePage outlines homeschool vision

Governor Paul LePage addresses Homeschoolers of Maine convention

Samoset Resort, Rockland, Maine

Saturday evening, March 11, 2011


Contents of video transcription:

  1. Home-school as a model for reform of Maine schools
  2. Getting our cake and eating it too”: public money for home-school without government interference
  3. Standards vs. local control
  4. Home-school college degrees
  5. Home Education Week in Augusta
  6. On being Governor and speaking to the press  
  7. Tax credits, vouchers, and having public money ‘follow the student’
  8. New Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen
  9. The shared obligation of paying for public education
  10. ‘Parental rights’
  11. Advanced placements
  12. ‘Mainstreaming’ vocational education, getting off the college track, and drawing teaching talent
  13. Holding students accountable for progress
  14. Easing restrictions on child labor
  15. Facilitating home-school access to college programs
  16. Forming a council of advisers on Maine school standards
  17. Stricter, more uniform application of special education, exercise, and diet
  18. Pushing for Creationism in Maine schools
  19. The unconstitutionality and necessity of state funding for education
  20. Abstinence, religion, and strategy for converting Maine to ‘Red State’ social values



[Welcoming applause]


Governor LePage: Wow!  Thank you so much! It’s a real pleasure to be here and I sincerely mean that. I am happier to be here than most appearances I make during the course of a week and the reason why is this organization - you folks - get it.  You really, really get it. You’re not a union that we have to fight with teachers - you’re not - you have it in the right place and I’ve been saying, ever since I ran for governor, the most important person in the classroom is the student and all you home-schoolers get it because you’re putting out, putting yourself out and you’re not only taking the trials and tribulations of educating but much of it is done at your own expense and I tell you I am gratified to see the size of this audience and I’m on board and we’re going to make this a bigger, and better, stronger organization in the next four years.




Home-school as a model for reform of Maine schools


Governor LePage: It’s very critical that the future of this state is dependent on the success that we have in educating and training our youth. And we as a nation and as a state are failing our children. In Washington last week we were there and I went to a couple of programs on education. Our country, the United States of America, has fallen to nineteenth in the world in education. We are now number nineteenth. The top four countries happen to be Singapore, Finland, Hong Kong, and - number four in the world - is Canada.  So - time to go up and get some teachers out of Canada and bring ‘em down here.




...Or we get you all in the classroom and you take over.


The other thing we found out is - you know, you always hear the argument that private schools do better because people are more involved and they pay for it and that home-schoolers do better because their parents are involved. Think about that for a minute. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? ...So maybe what we need to do is get the public schools to understand that they need to find ways to mentor the students. If the parents aren’t doing it and the parents recognize that it’s not happening so they choose to do it at home and they do a better job - in fact homeschooling in this country equals or excels - certainly excels the public schools as a community - but equals, is on par with every private school there is in the country. So, again, I have to commend you because - I’ll tell you - the sacrifice and the hard work it takes to not only raise a family but you’re educating a family and I’m just so pleased that it’s a growing - in the state of Maine - and I am certain that we as a community -  or you as a community are going to finally - how could I put this? - you’re having such a positive impact on the education of your children that the public schools have no choice but to start mimicking what we - what you - do and to learn from the home-schoolers. And they certainly know, that - where I stand about the educational system is I believe it’s all about the kids and therefore don’t come screaming to me about your retirement. Don’t come screaming to me that the year’s too long.  Parents who are home-schooling are doing it 365 days a year.





Getting our cake and eating it too: public money for home-school without government interference


We need to find ways to allow home-schoolers to take more advantage of public resources - for a couple of reasons. One is: you earned it. Two: you’re taxpayers. And I understand that there’s a fear from the homeschooling community that, if you do, old Government’s going to get on top of you. Well, I don’t believe that that - necessarily - has to be the way. If we formulate how it’s going to be done - (brief chuckles)  - then we can get our cake and eat it.


I do believe that there’s enormous sacrifices that have to happen in order to home-school. And there are resources that are in the public sector, or the public - I’m not even - call it the public domain, whether it’s community, county, or statewide, that deal with the - ah - collection of taxes that are earmarked solely for education. So I do not want to see anyone in the home-schooling environment to go without the necessary resources. So that’s why I say that you need to have the resources so you can do your job the absolute best that you can.



Standards vs. local control


Now the state of Maine - when we were in Washington - there’s the Common Core talk that you’ve heard about. And I don’t mind having strong standards. I believe that the country and our state need to raise our standards in our educational system so that our kids can compete. But I sure  - I want to make it very clear that I stop enormously short of saying that a Common Core standard has anything with establishing curriculum. I believe curriculum has to be established at the local level. And the home is as local as it gets.





Home-school college degrees


The one thing - the one statistic that is very, very concerning to me - and thank you because you’re helping to reduce it - is, in our public schools in the state of Maine right now,  there are 54% of every child that graduates from high school and goes on to a Community College - 54% has to have remedial courses before they can start college. At the university level, it’s 25%. One in four students coming out of high school going on to university level - University of Maine system - needs remedial work.  21% of the kids in the public school system that start as freshmen will never graduate.  Twenty-one percent.


So we have a dismal school system at the present time. We are going to make changes. We are going to fix our public school system and we’re going to have the examples coming from the home-schoolers who are going to help us fix the public system. Because not everyone has the ability, both academically or financially, the patience, or the wherewithal to educate their children. But those of you that do give us the - the ability to study, collect data, see what’s working, and bring that to the public system. And, that again - I need to thank each and every one of you because what you are doing is showing the public system that our kids are as smart as any European country, any Asian country - it’s just that we have to do it right. And doing it right means educating and mentoring - and mentoring happens when you do it at home. So thank you again.




We are moving in the state to bringing the whole vocational and technical environment back to the mainstream of our schools. And, along with that, we are going to be pushing for a five-year high school - and I’m sure many of you have heard me speak of that. We need to be sure that you fall into that - that you are part of that - system. You need to help us because we need to get the standard - the kids in home-schooling do so much better than public schools we need to find out why, how, and we need to make sure that your students and your children have the opportunity to come out of a - say - a “fifth year” of high school with an Associates degree.


That’s where we’re heading. We are going to - the fifth year high school is designed to have a standard that the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth year- I mean the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth year - are going to be three years when you finish high school and acquire a two-year Associates degree.




So think about this. With your help, your children, once they get to grade twelve, can go one more year and leave your home - or leave the nest - with an Associates degree so they can acquire their Bachelor’s in two years. And, in many home-schoolers, kids can go on their four-year degree in three years.


So that gives you the opportunity - and your children the opportunity - to have a Masters degree like in five - five years from high school.   So it’s just a phenomenal opportunity. And - but - we won’t be able to it without having the knowledge and the standards that you use in the home so that we can learn and make it statewide.



Home Education Week in Augusta


Now, May first through May seventh- this year’s proclaimed ‘Home Education Week.’ And on the sixth of May, I invite all home-school students in the state to come visit me in the State House. And I think we ought  to make a whole day of it.




You can call the Governor’s office, if you’re interested. We’ll make that a Civics Day or a Government Day, or.... But, if you’re interested, have your parents call the Governor’s office and book your visit for the sixth of May - and we’ll have a good time.  


I really believe we ought to do that because - I’ll say it again - I’m firmly a believer that those of you who are committed to home schooling are the answer to helping us fix the problems in the public schools.





On being Governor and speaking to the press


Now, with that, what I’m going to do is I’m going to stop there and I’m going to open it up and see if I can help you - I’ll answer any that you may have. How’s that? So we can have a little dialog. And the students are first, parents are second. [laughter] So any students that want to ask me a question, you’re on. Anyone? Hurry up, or I’ll have to turn it to the parents. [laughter] Student’s usually ask tougher questions too. Anybody have a question? Yes?


Q: Do you like being Governor?




Governor LePage: On days like today? Yes. The only time I don’t is when I have to speak to the newspapers.


[laughter and applause]



On tax credits, vouchers, and having public money ‘follow the student’


Q: One comment about the schools that we’re all familiar with is taxes - or property taxes at the local level. Is there some relief or option for home-schooling parents to get some kind of a credit against that portion of their local property taxes?


Governor LePage: Okay. Very good question. And in the current budget that’s been submitted there isn’t because we’re working on the EPS formula. But the answer is it is part of our agenda. It is part of my priorities and we are working with the new education Commissioner to find ways to have tax dollars follow... the... student. Now what I mean by that is: every student in Maine should have an equal opportunity. I would like the tax dollars that are paid by everyone, both at the community level and the state level, to follow the student. So that is one major change that we want to make. And that would include home-schools, delinquent kids, dropouts. See, not only is it important that a home-schooling family who want to home-school have the necessary resources but, if someone drops out of high school, I want the money to follow the student, not the school district. Therefore that will put a little bit more incentive on the school districts to get better at what they do to keep kids in school and also compete to get you folks to send your kids to the public schools.





On new Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen


Q: Yes sir. I just want to say thank your selection of Mr. Bowen for Commissioner of Education




Governor LePage: I will tell you this. He’s an amazingly smart guy. And he and I were working because he was working on our staff and we were looking for an Education Commissioner and, unbeknownst to many of you, I offered it to him. He was the first person we offered it to. He said, “Oh, no, I’d rather work in policy.” And, as time went along and people started - ah - saying they couldn’t afford to work for the state [laughs], which in many cases is the case - and we need to address that as a state -- Steve came up and said, “You know, if you want me to do it, I’ll do it.” I asked him to do it again and he said that he would do it and I’m very very proud to say that he is going to be very good at his job. I’m proud that he took the job. I think he’s the right selection and I think he’s going to really help us fix education in the state of Maine.



On the shared obligation of paying for public education


Q: Hi, I’m Diane from Bath. In regards to the funding following the student, I’ve often heard from families, couples that don’t have children, where does that property tax go?


Governor LePage: Un-huh.  There are two - two answers to that. Some families never have children, so they pay property taxes and the pay part of all the goods and services. They do not get a credit for not having children.  And businesses don’t get a bonus for not having - well - I won’t go any further on that one. [laughter]  But the point is the whole process - the whole formula - of property and state involvement is to have property taxes support part of education and then the taxes we collect to educate our kids. The one is the families that never had children, they don’t get a credit and, in some ways, that’s unfair. But for those whose kids have grown and left, they have benefited. So it’s for generational - it’s for generation after generation after generation. Because my kids have grown and gone to school, the young people in this room deserve the same opportunity that they had. The unfortunate thing in Maine that I feel bad about is population of students is going down. There’s less and less students every year.  That concerns me on two fronts. One front is it’s hard to grow an economy - and a prosperous economy - if your population is shrinking. And if we’re not maybe shrinking in numbers, we’re getting older and that’s not good. And the second one is very selfish on my part - is I need more students to grow up to go to work so they can pay more taxes so I can have a retirement.


[laughter and applause]



On ‘parental rights’


Q: Thank you for coming this evening.  I’m wondering if you could address the topic of parental rights and our possible resolutions?


Governor LePage: Okay. It’s interesting because we were speaking about that on the way down this evening. It is a very big concern of mine. It’s - I don’t think that it’s an immediate problem but it’s a problem that we need to be concerned about. And, I’ll be very frank, until this administration in Washington, I wasn’t concerned about it. But I am getting more and more concerned about it and I absolutely believe without any question that parents have the right to raise their family as they see fit. [applause]  That goes without - the - you know - without abusing children. There’s some people that would say that raising their children means that they can beat them around. I’m certainly not advocating that. Good parenting and discipline and learning to tell your children ‘No’ is not a bad thing in our society and I think government ought to get out of the way when it comes to raising kids.



On advanced placements


Q:  You spoke about the problem of students having to take remedial classes when they get to college and that wastes their time and money. And there are also students who are perfectly capable of taking tests such as the CLEP tests or the DANTES test and a lot of home-schoolers have experimented with that and testing out of classes that they would otherwise have to pay for. Is there a way perhaps to make it a little more cohesive in the university and community college system so that more students can do that?


Governor LePage: Absolutely. And that’s what we’re looking at. And that’s what the Common Core standard is all about. It’s measuring a child - where a child is at at any point in time so if a child is in the third grade but he’s performing at a fifth grade they automatically take fifth grade work. Now the one thing I will caution parents - and this is why I firmly believe in the five-year high school - is because academically kids will be ready - you know, academically ready - much quicker than  they are socially ready.  And that’s the only danger. Now, young ladies, they mature faster than young boys. So, guys, you got to get with it.





On ‘mainstreaming’ vocational education, getting off the college track, and drawing the best young talent to teaching


Q: Governor, I’m the Assistant Director of the technical high school in Brunswick and we know the importance of technical education and it’s very exciting for us. Can you give us some specifics about what you’re thinking?


Governor LePage: What basically we’re thinking is we need to make sure that technical courses and vocational courses are mainstreamed, are center stage in our schools.  We can’t - like in Waterville for instance, and I bring up Waterville because I was the mayor of Waterville - we have a high school, Waterville Senior High School, and then we have the regional technical school. They’re in the same building. But the high school is in the front of the building and the technical school is in the back of the building. And that’s what I mean. It’s got to be mainstreamed. They have to be together. We have to drop the stigma of if a child goes into a technical trade, wants to be a plumber, or an electrician, or work for CMP, or drafting that those are good, honest, reliable good-paying careers. And we have a society, we have now taken our schools, particularly high schools, in the state of Maine we’ve gone on this track the last ten years that you’re  in high school, you’re expected to go on to college. That is a bad, bad policy. I absolutely believe it’s wrong. Every person is an individual. They learn at different rates. They like different things and whatever you like is fine. If you’re a good, honest, contributing member of society - end of story. It doesn’t make any difference which field you go into. In our country, education, now teachers have sort of slid down the scale. In the four top nations, teachers are revered. Like policemen, firemen used to be revered in this country, teachers in Singapore and in Hong Kong are put on a pedestal. They don’t make a lot of money. It’s not much different than in this country - slightly better, certainly better than Maine, but comparable to what we get paid in the US - and - but they’re revered. And we need to go back to that. We need to find the best students and encourage them to go into education. Because the one thing I found out in Washington -  a good teacher, a very good teacher can have 25 students and they’ll all excel. But an average teacher with eight students will have eight average ...contributors. So it’s about finding the best in the education world.



On holding students accountable for progress


Q: I feel like the odd duck here because I am a school teacher and I taught for 20 years  [inaudible]


Governor LePage: You know you’re absolutely right. In fact there’s a school system in Mt. Abrams right now that is in a program, a federal program, and they  refuse to let students fall through the cracks, number one, and they also refuse to just move them on just because they’ve been there a year. So it’s a matter of making sure that they get to the level they need to be at to move on. [applause] And that’s where we’re going with education.



On easing restrictions on child labor


Q: Apprenticeship and child labor law. I’ve desired to apprentice some young men but child labor laws do not allow it in my realm of work, contracting.  So they’ve increased our burden   [inaudible] fourteen or fifteen, fresh air. Laws will not allow it.


Governor LePage (interrrupting): Maine


Q (continuing) Maine. And there’s no avenue that allows it.  


Governor LePage: Well let me tell you, the answer is yes. That’s already on the table. Soon as we find a Commissioner of Labor that - ah - we can put in. We’ve had a few people that started, said yes, and then they pulled themselves out. We’re finding a couple of things. One is the Commissioner level in state government don’t get paid a lot and so it’s difficult to get someone that’s very very good in their field to leave it to get paid. There’s not too many people that will take 70% cuts in pay. So that’s one issue. We’ve got some people that we’re looking at now, that we’re talking to. And the minute they get in there, the one thing I want to do is conform Maine labor laws to federal labor laws.  And the federal government is far more - um - flexible than state government. The other thing we’re doing is that we’re doing that in our tax reform package. We’re doing that to conform a lot of laws to the federal government that we have no choice on.  So, for instance,  there is apprenticeships at the federal level. You can work - children can work.The areas that are dangerous is when you get into equipment, which is in federal law, and we’re looking for flexibility in that area so that our young kids can learn trades in the agriculture and in fishing and some of those areas which prevent kids from touching equipment, which is not a labor law, it’s an OSHA law.



On facilitating home-school access to college programs


Q: I know you’re familiar with the ‘Aspirations’ program [inaudible] ...we wanted to be involved but ….were told [inaudible] because we weren’t part of the public school system. Is that something you could look at?


Governor LePage: I will tell you. Why don’t you call the Governor’s office. Give me your name and number and we’ll address that right away. I don’t see why not. Every student has the same opportunity.  Frankly I wasn’t aware that home-schoolers weren’t allowed in that. That’s just wrong.





On forming a council of advisers on Maine school standards


Q: Good evening Governor. Would you address what you were speaking of earlier about the home-schooling community helping out in bettering our public schools?


Governor LePage: Yes. What we’re going to do - if I can ever get the papers off my back - is I’m trying to get a council of advisers and - from K through 13 - and what that means is we want to bring in public school teachers, home-schooling teachers, magnet school teachers, private school teachers, get them in a room and say, okay, how do we establish -- we’re going to accept the Common Core standards of the federal government.  But, quite frankly, I don’ t think that’s enough. I think we have to have Maine standards that exceed the standards. And that’s where I think you can help.





On stricter, more uniform application of special education, exercise, and diet


Q: Governor, I noticed in our own school district that so many children are being labeled as being ADHD. Then the school district gets more money for those children. They’re essentially just put into a classroom and babysat, even though many of them look like perfectly capable children and seem like it, they’re not taught anything after that point.


Governor LePage: You’re absolutely right. And that’s why - if you think through when I say: ‘the money follows the student’ - that’s going to have to change. And you’re absolutely right. In the state of Maine right now in the public school system, there is a 400 percent - no - a 500 percent variance between one district qualifying a child for ADD or special education and another - which tells me that we’re chasing money - or, we’re lazy. It’s one of two things. We’re either chasing more federal monies for the school district or we’re plain old lazy.  A little discipline problem and we send them to special ed. It’s just the wrong thing. We are going to get much, much tougher on how you qualify a student and they’re going to have be looked at by a counselor and not by a teacher.




Q: Maybe the idea of a one room schoolhouse needs to be revisited.


Governor LePage: Absolutely. In the small rural districts, yes. Absolutely.


Q (continuing): It might solve some of the ADD if the children had to walk to school. [laughter and applause] It would also address the epidemic of obesity  I’m very concerned about it. I’m a nurse and it is very sad to see kindergartners who are going to be at high risk for heart attacks when they’re twenty. Seriously. The old things that work. Part of home-schooling is going back to the old paths and walking that way. And that’s what makes us successful.  


Governor LePage: I absolutely agree with you that there’s not enough physical activity in the schools or going to or from schools and that is a major part of the issue. And obesity is a chronic problem in the state of Maine and  throughout the country. And that needs to be addressed - Home Ec and dietary. You know, another thing that we’re talking about right now is - we’re exploring right now is - our school systems - we talk about wellness. Everybody’s heard the term wellness lately. Everybody is saying we’ve got to get our kids healthier and we’ve got to live healthier to  lower the cost of health insurance - and then we serve pizza, hot dogs, and junk food at the schools. So, yes, that is a major, the dietary  teachings in the school, both at the lunch - what we serve at lunchtime - and dietary training for our kids so they understand what’s good, bad foods and we’ve got to go down that path.


Q: Perhaps, if we got to the point where, when we taught health in high school, it wasn’t just [inaudible] it was every part of your body.


Governor LePage: Some schools in the state of Maine, that’s going to be a battle.



On advocating Creationism in Maine schools


Q: During the Republican primary, you said 'Yes' and 'Yes' to the questions 'Do you believe in Creationism' and ‘Do you believe it should be taught in public schools.’ I was wondering if you still believe that it should be taught in public schools and, if so, I was wondering what steps you're taking to start that?


Governor LePage: Okay. So that there’s a clear - in fact someone gave me a book yesterday: ‘Creationism and Evolutionism and What Difference Does It Make?’ because - and the point of the book is this: Do I believe it should be taught in schools? Yes. And the reason I believe it should be taught in schools is very simply this: Knowledge is power. Information is knowledge and knowledge is power.  The more knowledge, the more information you gather, the better decisions you make later on in life. Therefore, I don’t think that because you disagree with it, it ought not to be taught.  So, I will - yes - be pushing to have it taught.  The likelihood of it passing the state of Maine legislature is not good. So, what we can do to do that is our charter schools, magnet schools, special schools and give them the right to do whatever they want. I also believe that parochial schools, or religious-based schools should have the opportunity to get state resources because it’s not about your religion. It’s not about what your personal belief is in. It’s about the most important person in the classroom which is the student.



On the unconstitutionality and necessity of state funding for education


Q: Do you think that it’s possible to get the Legislature to read the Constitution?


Governor LePage: No.




Q (continuing, quoting Maine Constitution’s section on education) “…out of their own funds”. And they keep talking about 55 percent.


Governor LePage: ..In the Constitution it says that each community will provide education for its kids, basically. But the state is providing upwards of 55 percent. The answer to that question is - and in reality - is we have home rule in the state of Maine. Home rule, as it turns out, is a very, very expensive proposition. If we could have education to be a local entity and then we could consolidate some of the other services like public roads, like roads, like maintenance on roads, police, fire, then I think that your suggestion could be close to reality - that the local communities could fund education, the way they see fit, as long as the students meet a certain standard core, a standard by the time they graduate.  The problem is everybody talks a good game but nobody shows up for the fight. Today - this week for instance - everybody in the state will acknowledge that we have one point two billion dollar shortfall. But there is not one constituent that hasn’t been in the Hall of Flags screaming ‘don’t cut me.’ And that’s what the problem is.



On abstinence, religion, and strategy for converting Maine to ‘Red State’ social values


Q: Thanks for being here. I’m a little concerned - like the lady said - how you want to get us home-schoolers to help the public schools. Frankly, a lot of the families, we can’t talk to the public school teachers, or the school boards. They don’t want to hear it. And the only thing we’re doing different is we’re...


Governor LePage (interrupting): ..educating.  




Q (continuing): Number one, probably 99 percent of the parents believe in abstinence. Public schools are sick. What they’re teaching our kids, they’re perverted and they’re perverting our kids. So, number one, that would be a big thing to aim for.  Abstinence. Just let it be taught. It’s not even taught in our schools. Bring God back into the schools. We have God in our homes. We want for these kids in the schools to have God, bring the daily prayer back in, or allow...


Governor LePage: ...Allow it, at least.


Q (continuing): I think that Bible clubs are allowed but I know that they get a lot of grief.  Allow Bible studies to be done in these schools and you’ll see changed kids, changed parents, changed hearts.


Governor LePage: Let me try to answer that. so - you’ll - we’re probably going to be start heading in that direction. And what I mean by that is: in the last thirty-five years we’ve had one ideology that has run the state and it’s very definitely left of center. In last November’s election w e had for the first time since 1950s - or 1960 - we have a legislature, a senate, and a Republican governor. So it’s been almost fifty years.  So now what we need to do is - and you’re absolutely right - in the next - and we’re going to have an election next year - we need to maintain that and build on it. And then we will become a red state. Those red states, many of them do allow a lot more than we do here in Maine. That’s because the people want it. Now we also have a federal Constitution which unfortunately the courts have been going the wrong way in my mind and we need to go back to the basics. And I do believe that ‘In God We Trust’ is all over our Constitution. It’s all over our country. It was based - our country was based on religion, frankly. And so we need to work towards that. Is it going to happen in my administration? Don’t think so. Unless you vote real Republican next time around - a lot bigger majority. But I do believe it’s coming. And I do believe that we’re going to return to that. And the reason why - look at this crowd. What is it? 4600 home-schoolers this year? That’s a lot of students being home-schooled.  And, twenty years ago, we had 225,000 students in the state, Now we’re under 190,000. And if the home-schoolers keep going (up) and public schoolers keep shrinking and if we do go to a Common Core standard - and I do believe in the one classroom school, and I’ll tell you why - K through six, for instance - you can have K through six in one classroom and one good teacher can handle all the grades. So I don’ t think it’s about spending a certain amount of time on a grade. It’s understanding the academic. It’s all about performance. If you’re performing at the third grade level, then I don’t see why you shouldn’t be in the third grade, taking third grade course, and vice versa.