I’m surprised Republican Gov. Paul LePage hasn’t stumbled over the obvious solution to reforming Maine’s education system:

Turn control of the state’s schools over to former GOP Gov. John “Jock” McKernan.

McKernan, who occupied the Blaine House (although not with anywhere near the same fervor as recently convicted Occupy Maine protestors) from 1987 to 1995, is a big shot in the world of for-profit higher education. Since 2006, he’s served as chairman of the board of Education Management Corp., the Pittsburgh-based owner of more than 100 schools, many of which operate under the Art Institutes brand name.

While it’s true McKernan is being shunted aside as EMC shakes up it’s executive offices in the wake of major declines in its stock price (it recently closed at less than 4 bucks a share, after finishing last year at nearly $28), he’s still a member of the board and has valuable experience in how to turn a modest investment in TV ads aimed at gullible slackers into a $1.8 billion annual windfall of federal education cash.

LePage has frequently said that Maine schools waste money on small class sizes, unneeded facilities and top-heavy administration. No one has ever leveled similar charges against Education Management (although congressional investigators have complained that over 60 percent of its students drop out without completing their studies, thereby wasting the taxpayer money they borrowed to finance their schooling).

“Clearly, the status quo in education is not working,” LePage said in a statement last month.

He was referring to public schools, not EMC.

Here’s how the scam – I mean, the reform – could work in Maine. All the state’s public schools, from pre-kindergarten to the law school, would be privatized. A new company would be formed (it could be called something catchy like the Three Rs Institutes) to run them. All current teachers and administrators would become employees of that operation.

Did I say “all”? Sorry, slip of the tongue, due to my drooling over the impending tax savings from not having to pay for schools. New Commissioner of Education McKernan would be free to fire as many of those employees as necessary to make the numbers work. And by numbers, I don’t mean the old standard of assessing schools according to national test scores.

I’m talking about the bottom line.

Parents who wanted to enroll their children in the new educational system would apply for federal loans to cover the cost. Paying off those debts should be easy, since their state and local tax bills would be sharply reduced once there was no longer any need for public revenue for schools. And the new private facilities would be cheaper, anyway, because they wouldn’t be wasting funds on costly frills such as special education (which would consist of large-screen televisions and industrial-strength doses of Ritalin), individual instruction (if you have a question, email your instructor in Pittsburgh), advanced placement (elitist propaganda) and accreditation (stifles creative solutions, such as requiring enrollees to perform 20 hours of unpaid janitorial services each week in order to graduate).

Students who objected to the revised curriculum would be free to quit at any time, once their federal vouchers cleared the bank. In fact, they’d be encouraged to do so, in order to raise standards for the remaining scholars. By concentrating on the roughly one third of applicants who were so desperate for an education that they’d endure deprivation, crushing debt and endless classes available only via the schools’ ultra-slow dial-up computer access, this would undoubtedly result in more graduates ready to step into the jobs Maine has to offer (sweeping hallways, cleaning urinals, serving in the Legislature).

“The state of Maine can continue down the path of being a welfare state,” LePage said in a radio interview in April, “or we can revive the American Dream.”

There’s no question this plan would accomplish that – mostly for McKernan. With Education Management facing a federal lawsuit involving fraudulent student-recruitment efforts, with consumers questioning whether for-profit schooling has any value, with the ex-governor’s stock holdings in EMC worth a fraction of what they were in 2011, he clearly needs a fresh start.

Letting him run Maine’s education system for his personal gain seems little enough thanks for his eight years of half-hearted service as the state’s chief executive.

One more advantage of privatizing public schools: It makes way more sense than LePage’s plan to charge local schools districts for the cost of any remedial programs their students have to take before qualifying for college-level courses. If that proposal were implemented, it would raise property taxes. And it would allow indifferent students to escape responsibility for their poor performance.

Only McKernan gets that kind of hall pass.

Can I be excused to go potty? If anything interesting comes up while I’m gone, email me at [email protected]


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