AUGUSTA – Republican state lawmakers held a news conference Thursday to rebut claims that their party’s gubernatorial nominee, Paul LePage, will refuse federal education dollars if he is elected.

The assertion was made by LePage’s Democratic rival, Libby Mitchell, in recent television advertisements, citing an interview that LePage gave earlier in the campaign.

“Paul will make sure our teachers, kids and classrooms will have the resources they need for success,” said Sen. Carol Weston, R-Montville, who serves on the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. “For four decades, Libby Mitchell and the unions have been the face of education. Paul LePage will finally make our kids, our students, the face of education in Maine.”

The Mitchell ad refers to an interview of LePage by Jarrod Le Blanc, who produces an online news program called “Maine Web News.”

During the interview in August, LePage said Maine should not receive more federal funding than residents pay in federal taxes.

In the Mitchell ad, an ominous voice intones: “Paul LePage says he will reject $180 million in federal funding for our schools.”

It then claims that loss of funding would lead to overcrowded classrooms, school closings and the elimination of sports and music programs.

Dan Demeritt, spokesman for the LePage campaign, said LePage was speaking philosophically in the interview with Le Blanc. LePage would turn away federal funds only if they came with dubious federal mandates, he said.

Mary-Anne Beal, a Waterville city councilor, said per-pupil spending has increased in Waterville while LePage has been the city’s mayor.

“He’s increased spending per student by 30 percent since he’s been mayor,” said Beal, who said she was a Democrat but recently registered as an independent because of false attacks on LePage. “Under Mayor LePage’s leadership, we’ve provided strong support for academic programs and extracurricular activities. Not a single program has been cut.”

Weston said LePage favors reforms such as charter schools and merit pay for teachers — changes that Mitchell and teachers’ unions oppose.

“Paul is committed to education reforms that put our kids first,” she said. “He’s guided by a firm set of principles that will create an educational system that works for our kids and not the unions.”

David Loughran, spokesman for the Mitchell campaign, said LePage is merely changing his tune because he is slipping in recent polls.

“This is an attempt to change his position on an issue, that he clearly said that education should be left to the states, that the Department of Education should be shut down. And if he advocates those positions, the state would lose $180 million in funding,” Loughran said. “He said that education should be left up to the state. And this is in the context of saying Maine should only get back the federal dollars that we pay in.”

Loughran said Mitchell has worked on behalf of students and improving education throughout her career, as a politician and a teacher.

“She led the effort to make Maine the first state in the country to invest in Head Start, she’s more than doubled the amount of money that goes into scholarships for Maine graduates,” he said. “Anyone who says she’s not a champion for Maine kids and Maine’s education system is not being upfront.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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