LePage opens education summit as critics speak up

LePage opened the conference by relating his own education story, which included learning English beginning at age 13. He said having an educator allow him to take college entrance tests in French changed his life.

Christopher Cousins/Bangor Daily News

Gov. Paul LePage, center, shares a laugh with Cony High School senior Michelle Zhang at the beginning of LePage's "Putting Students First" education summit in Augusta on Friday. Speaking at the podium is Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen.

“I believe my mission for the rest of my life is to make sure that every Maine student has the same opportunity that I had,” said LePage. “That is my mission. There are two things that drive me. Having every student have the best opportunity for education and secondly to make Maine a very prosperous state. That’s all that drives me.”

The summit, which was announced by LePage in his State of the State address, involves education officials from across the country and is billed by the administration as a sort of brainstorming session on education reform.

The first session focused on the issue of school choice, which the governor has consistently worked to expand in Maine.

There were also sessions scheduled on educator effectiveness and an afternoon session called “The Florida Story,” which involves three presenters from the National Council on Teacher Quality, which was founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The conference was scheduled to end with a keynote presentation by Dr. Tony Bennett, who is Florida’s commissioner of education.

But LePage began taking fire for his summit early Friday morning. Chris Korzen of Maine’s Majority said in a press release that LePage is attempting to dismantle Maine’s public education system.

“The purpose of this conference is to encourage radical education ‘reforms’ in Maine,” reads the press release. “The conference features little involvement from Maine’s public education system, but plenty of input from representatives who stand to benefit financially from these for-profit education reforms.”

Korzen said Maine should not be listening to experts from out of states, particularly Bennett, who Korzen said has failed at education reform in the past.

“We’ve got to start asking ourselves, why are people from Indiana and Florida suddenly interested in changing our schools?” said Korzen. “The answer is simple: they are positioned to profit financially from those reforms.”

Democratic members of the Legislature called the conference a “dog and pony show.”

“Instead of hearing a sales pitch from an out-of-state group that views students as revenue streams, we should be bringing together the best of Maine,” said Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, in a press release. “Right now, in schools across the state, innovative programs are being tested that have yet to be brought to every classroom. If the governor is looking for new ideas he should start with what is already working here in Maine.”

The conference also featured some impassioned appeals from students, including Mohammad Nur, a sophomore at Deering High School.

“Education can come in different shapes and forms and sizes and you learn from every experience you have,” said Nur. “Students tend to learn more and work harder in classes that they enjoy.”

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Putting the kids first

Simple arithmetic should tell the governor that there are thousands of Maine kids in public schools and hundreds in private and charter schools. Why take money away from a system that serves thousands to give it to a system that serves an elite minority?. How is that public education? If there are problems with the public schools they can be fixed by simple policy changes but not with fewer resources. And having two school systems is way more expensive and furthermore a private system is even less responsive to the will of the community than a public one. Just check out what is happening in Waterville. Do we really want our tax money going to a school that formulates its policies according to the whims of the highest donor? What the governor should be doing is having a conference on how to improve the public schools. And I know this is a radical idea but he could start by asking for suggestions from the people who work there. So far trying to run a school like a business isn't having a whole lot of success.

Edward S Phillips 's picture

Liberal Democrats and the Education lobby

The liberal democrats need the education associations money for elections. They will do any thing to defeat choice and betterment for students. Look at all the additional money we have put in to education than look at the failure of any increase in results. Every time we pore more money in it only goes to salarys and benefits with no increase in productivity or results. A bottomless pit for money.

Jason Theriault's picture


The Republican agenda for schools has nothing to do with bettering children and all about dissecting a democratic power base.

And "pouring" money in? Have you ever looked at the budget? When was the last time we "poured" money into education?

And you do realize a majority of school funding is local?

Jason Theriault's picture


I though the Local governments paid a majority. I think I misread the budget, and while it is close to a 50-50 split, the state pays more(If I read it right on second inspection).

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Bush Failures

Lets face it, anything that has come from a Bush in regards to education is Failure...It appears that the right wants to make everything for profit at the expense of education, penal correction facilities and now the Post office business and much more.

It is time for the people of Maine to look out for themselves instead of the greed of those from the redneck states. Just like the putz Ted Cruz, from another redneck state wanting to remove 2 billion on pell grants and other education programs....

Jason Theriault's picture

School Choice is a nonstarter

Barking up the wrong tree on this one. It's a nonstarter, and he can pimp it all he wants, the democrats are not going to expand programs that take resources away from public schools, especially after he has dumped a lot of the expenses that the state was covering back on the municipalities.

And reading up on the National Council on Teacher Quality, after reading a few of their reports and seeing the same problems brought up time and time again seems to be more about an agenda of union busting than solving educational problems.

And as for "The Florida Story", according to the nation's report card(http://nationsreportcard.gov), Maine is ahead of Florida in everything, so maybe we should go down there and tell them "The Maine Story"


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