AUGUSTA — When Gov. Paul LePage made an unscripted — and apparently incorrect — claim last week about the admissions policy at the College of William & Mary, the governor was drawing upon what a college employee had told him at least seven years ago.
That’s according to LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett, who said this week that “someone at the school” told LePage about the requirement for placement or achievement testing sometime in 2005-06.
During a press conference July 25, LePage said a recent Harvard study showed Maine students were barely making progress in achievement. He decried the state of Maine’s public schools, said the state’s reputation is suffering nationwide, and as an example he used the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
“If you go to William & Mary, apply to William & Mary, before they’ll look at your application, if you’re from a Maine school, you have to take a placement exam to see if you qualify,” LePage said at the press conference.
A spokeswoman for William & Mary, however, said later that day that the college did not set different requirements for Maine students.
Bennett said the statement about William & Mary was not in LePage’s prepared remarks for the news conference, which was also attended by Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen.
Asked whether the person who relayed the information to LePage was a William & Mary employee, Bennett said, “That’s my understanding.”
Bennett would not comment further on the issue.
William & Mary spokeswoman Suzanne Seurattan repeated in an email message this week that LePage’s statement about the placement exam was incorrect, even with the new details offered by the governor’s office.
“The College of William & Mary does not now, nor did it in 2005-2006, have any separate entrance exam requirements for students based on their state of residency,” Seurattan wrote. Seurattan did not return calls seeking more information.
LePage’s remarks at the press conference drew a lot of criticism, most notably when he said, “I don’t care where you go in this country — if you come from Maine, you’re looked down upon now.”
The Maine Democratic Party pounced on LePage’s William & Mary claim, saying in a statement last week that LePage “flat-out lied in an attempt to promote the same failed education policies he’s been pushing” and accused him of “cherry picking information.”
Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster said Friday that Democrats are going after LePage’s statements to divert attention from their own record.
“It’s summertime,” Webster said. “The Democrats obsess with anything the governor says. They have nothing else to talk about.”
LePage and Bowen had called the State House conference to outline their educational priorities, proposing new “ABCs”: accountability, best practices and choice. LePage said he will propose a bill in the next legislative session to require school districts to pay for their graduates’ remedial courses in college.