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“I Have a Dream” about Governor Paul LePage

On Monday, the day most of America celebrated Martin Luther King Day, Maine Governor Paul LePage told reporters he did not want to discuss his “kiss my butt” response to concerned leaders of the NAACP. He also insisted that his last minute scheduling change to attend an Martin Luther King event in Waterville had nothing to do with the hullabaloo over his insensitive comments and his prior declination to attend any MLK events even if it was vintage material for the likes of Steven Colbert.

This very troubling trend by Maine’s Governor (on the campaign trail he had told fishermen that President Barack Obama could “go to hell”) continues an ugly pattern of verbal missteps. Unfortunately, barely two weeks on the job, Mr. LePage reinforced many of the concerns that the man’s sharp tongue was exceeded only by his quick temper.

But dare I say it. I have a dream and I am trying to remain hopeful. After all, this Republican Governor has expressed support for an educational idea that is so far removed from the Republican party we might expect members of his own party to utter a similar expletive in the Governor’s direction.

Putting Maine Back on the Educational Map

It seems that Mr. LePage is a strong proponent of the early college concept. For those unfamiliar with the term, early college refers to the transformation of four-year high schools to five-year programs whereby students can earn both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.

This idea is contrary to current Republican rhetoric for three reasons. First and foremost, creating this initiative will require additional state spending on education. All Republicans, Mr. LePage included, recently ran their 2010 campaigns pledging to cut bloated government spending.

This idea also runs smack dab against the individualism the party promotes. It instead focuses on actions that would have the government investing in individuals so as to collectively benefit society.

And third, it is all about the future, about spending money now in an effort to build a better world for our children. It is the complete antithesis of the recent legislation, supported by both parties, a tax cut mantra that is all about the here and now.

Benefits of Early College Initiatives

Likewise, the concept has three significant benefits for students. First, the process eliminates one critical transition period for students. The success of the K-8 format over any other grade configuration is thought to be due to the reduction in transitions for youngsters.

Second, it focuses on small schools with high expectations and real rigor. The bottom line is that most students will rise to the expectations set forth for them if they are asked to do real, meaningful work that they can see truly relates to their future.

And allowing students the chance to earn an associate’s degree, free of charge, means that those of limited means could still have access to post-secondary education options. In fact, early college appears to be having the greatest impact on the traditionally under-served population, minorities and those without the monetary means to pursue higher education.

Corny, I Know

So yes, I have a dream, that maybe Mr. LePage has some of the vision that made Angus King so popular in our state. Early college could well be the single best way to begin to reduce the disparity in college attendance rates among the various socio-economic classes and minority students.

Yes, I have a dream, that Mr. LePage might be capable of seeing his vision through. This would be great news for the children of Maine, returning the state to a position of leadership nationally.

We understand that Mr. LePage is a man of his word – that may be why so many people were so upset with his comments to the NAACP. If he is in fact a man of his word in regards to early college educational initiative, he could well be known nationally for something other than his sarcastic comments.

Should he pull it off, bringing about the early college concept would bring him national recognition from very important people. I am thinking of those other than Stephen Colbert.

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