A month ago, we welcomed the news that Gov. Paul LePage and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen had rolled out their education reform agenda.

At the time, we noted that some of the elements of the plan likely would be controversial — such as using public money to pay tuition at religious schools — but believed the proposals had enough positive elements to warrant a vigorous debate.

Now, with the Legislature’s statutory adjournment date less than a month away and the leadership’s deadline for finishing all committee work by the end of this week, we wonder if enough time is left for that debate to take place in any meaningful way.

The Education Committee is scheduled to hold public hearings and work sessions on the bills between Tuesday and Thursday, competing for time and attention with a full agenda of weighty issues. That’s a tall order for a very busy Legislature that already had much on its plate.

This is hardly the first time in Maine history that an important bill was produced at the last minute and committee work was shortchanged, but that doesn’t mean this is a good way to do legislative business. The questioning and negotiations that make up the committee process create a better legislative product and laws with fewer unintended consequences.

What the administration has made is a hasty process that appears to be set up for a Republican steamroller.

It doesn’t really matter whether, as the administration’s critics charge, this was an intentional effort to limit debate, or just a reflection of how long it took a new group of officials to get their acts together. Either way, the public’s ability to influence the laws that will directly and profoundly affect them is serious limited.

This didn’t have to happen. Large parts of these bills are copied from laws in other states, requiring little legislative craftsmanship. Bowen had been an advocate for conservative education reform from his post at the Maine Heritage Policy Center before coming to office. Lawmakers shouldn’t have had to wait until the final days of the second session of the Legislature to begin working on this legislative agenda.

The public won’t be well-served by this approach, regardless of the outcome.

The Education Committee, however, would be well-served to cull this ambitious agenda to only the items that can get the amount of attention they require, and let the administration reintroduce the controversial elements next year.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.