Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed overhaul of education in Maine must be a good idea.

We know that because the state’s teachers’ union hates it — and the Maine Education Association more often than not hates anything that promises improvements in the way our children are educated.

The teachers’ union is interested primarily in maintaining its control of the educational process and protecting teachers’ jobs — even the jobs of mediocre and incompetent teachers who have no business in the classroom.

The union’s reaction to the four legislative initiatives unveiled by the governor last week was swift and overwhelmingly negative.

“They are stripping away the the rights of teachers,” was the union president’s predictable, knee-jerk response.

So LePage and his allies in the Legislature will have their work cut out for them as try to enact into law the bills that encompass the governor’s proposals. The teachers’ union will fight these bills as ferociously as they have fought other attempts to overhaul the system, including virtually every conceivable effort to hold teachers accountable for the quality of teaching they deliver.

That said, LePage did himself no favors by announcing his initiative without doing the preliminary groundwork that might have made it more palatable to those whose inclination would be to greet such significant changes with skepticism or flat-out opposition. This is the sort of major policy undertaking that should be discussed ahead of time and presented in a well-publicized, high-profile manner — perhaps even with a major speech before the Legislature.

LePage is not talking about tinkering with the system here; he’s asking for changes that could alter the state’s entire approach to education.

Instead of presenting his plan in a transparent and statesmanlike manner, however, the governor chose to dump it on the public and the Legislature with little advance notice during a routine visit to a vocational school in Skowhegan. That didn’t give the plan the weight it deserved — and effectively cut everyone else out of the picture, supporters as well as opponents.

But that’s the LePage way. Communication is not his strong suit, as we saw the other day when yet another communications director exited the governor’s administration.

Style points aside — and teachers’ union indignation notwithstanding — LePage has put some significant and potentially beneficial changes on the table.

One bill would create a system of school choice rarely seen in public education by establishing an open enrollment program under which students could attend schools without regard to district or town boundaries. Another would mandate evaluation programs designed to provide accurate measures of student achievement and hold teachers and administrators accountable.

Another would boost vocational training, reworking school calendars to accommodate training programs.

The fourth bill, undoubtedly the most controversial and potentially problematic, would allow taxpayers’ money to go toward Maine students’ education at religious schools that meet designated academic standards. If passed, this bill will no doubt face constitutional challenges from the teachers’ union and other interests.

“These are tax dollars, and I believe in the separation of church and state,” said union president Chris Galgay after the plan was announced.

Republican Sen. Garrett Mason, of Lisbon Falls, on the other hand, noted that similar programs in other states have survived court challenges.

“This is not a radical departure from reality,” Mason said. “This is a great thing.”

All of the governor’s proposals are intriguing and have gained traction elsewhere as states and communities struggle to deal with the challenges of educating America’s students to face a national and global economy that is increasingly competitive.

Opponents need to approach these ideas with an open mind. Proponents need to understand that some people will have misgivings and that compromise will be required to turn the ideas into policy.

One individual whose willingness to compromise is absolutely crucial is LePage. If he decides to make education reform another of his “all or nothing” challenges and goes out of his way — as he does all too often– to antagonize those who see things differently, his proposals will be doomed.

If all he wants to do is set off another ideology-driven political battle — as he did with his Medicaid budget cuts — then his plan will be rejected and a precious opportunity will be lost, perhaps forever.

If the governor is sincerely committed to changing policy to better educate our students, however, he can shepherd these proposals through the Legislature and revolutionize education in the state of Maine.

If he achieves nothing else as governor, the impact of such a revolution could give him a gubernatorial legacy that would truly be historic.

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