The Biddeford School Department is likely trying to figure out how to fund after-school programs in the fall, after finding out that a grant that was to fund those programs and summer school this year will be rescinded.

The decision to take back the grant funds was announced by state Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen May 18, about a month after the awards were announced. The 21st Century Community Learning Center grants were awarded to Biddeford, Auburn, Portland and Fryeburg.

About $1.2 million was to go to Biddeford over the next five years, with $287,000 the first year to fund summer school for grades 1-5 and after-school programs in the fall.

The decision to rescind the grant is shocking and detrimental to the state’s young people, and Commissioner Bowen needs to reconsider.

DOE officials said the awards were rescinded after an applicant that was not awarded funds appealed the decision. After reviewing the request for proposals, a determination was made that the RFP was “flawed,” according to department spokesman David Connerty-Marin. He said it was required that the grants be withdrawn and a new RFP be issued.

Some dispute that the RFP was flawed, however, including Ethan Strimling, CEO of Learning Works, which helped Biddeford with its application for the grant. Strimling said a precedent was set with the 2009 RFP for the same funds, which states priority points would be awarded to applicants serving “designated Title I priority schools.” Although priority points in the scoring of the grant were to go to Title I schools in this round as well, that was not clearly stated in this year’s RFP, according to Connerty-Marin.

Even if the request for proposals process were flawed, taking back the money after the entire process is complete is unfair to the districts that put in the work to apply for the funds. Since learning of the awards, those districts have made plans for the grant funds, which will now have to be scrapped.

Procedure is also being questioned by legislators as to whether Bowen has the authority to rescind the funds.

State Sens. Nancy Sullivan, D-Biddeford, and Lois Snowe-Mello, R-Poland, who represents Auburn, are protesting Bowen’s decision and say he doesn’t have the right.

In a joint letter to Bowen, the senators wrote, “”¦ guidelines for overturning a decision state that in order to overturn an award, there must have been a ”˜violation of law,’ the award must have been ”˜arbitrary or capricious,’ or there had to have been ”˜irregularities creating fundamental unfairness’” ”“ none of those were reasons given as to why the grants were rescinded, they said.

We agree with Sullivan and Lois Snowe-Mello as well as Biddeford Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jeff Porter, who said, “I am not overstating my observation that the credibility of the Maine Department of Education has been tarnished in my mind. The DOE’s decision is unprecedented and highly irregular.”

In addition to all that has transpired, DOE officials now say a new RFP will not be issued until July 1, when additional money becomes available for grants.

That means school departments like Biddeford that could have re-applied for funding will not be able to fund summer programs, and students who were already in need of additional help will fall further behind.

Local and state officials and legislators should keep the pressure on the Department of Education and Commissioner Bowen to reinstate the awards that were given and make plans for the next time around to keep the error from happening again.

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Today’s editorial was written by City Editor Robyn Burnham on behalf of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski by calling 282-1535, Ext. 322, or via email at [email protected].