Saturday, March 23, 2013

Jeb Bush reforms spotlighted at Maine governor's education conference

For those following the intersection between former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the school choice movement, for-profit education companies, and the development of education reforms here in Maine, my story in today's Portland Press Herald may be of interest.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage hosted his education conference yesterday, and he met most of the presenters he invited while attending Bush's national education summit last November, including senior staff from his Foundation for Excellence in Education. The conference was as expected: a pitch for opening up Maine's public education system via vouchers, the removal of limits on charter schools and digital charters schools, a loosening of teacher accreditation requirements, and vigorous testing. The reaction was also predictable: school choice advocates loved it, teacher's unions and progressive activists denounced it, and the uninitiated probably felt a bit confused.

The most interesting aspect from my point of view was the governor's uncharacteristically conciliatory tone before an audience that included many skeptical school administrators -- and Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett's explicit on-stage advice to him to try to reach out to all Mainers. (Bill Nemitz has wondered aloud about LePage's recent moderation.)

The story got cut a bit for space. A couple tid-bits from the cutting room floor: two presenters -- a Democratic Georgia state legislator and a retired Maine Maritime Academy professor -- didn't show up. The Maine G.O.P. put out a press release on behalf of their members of the legislature's education committee saying they were inspired by the conference. The Democratic chair of that committee, Rep. Bill MacDonald of Boothbay, didn't respond to requests for comment.

Education department spokesperson David Connerty-Marin said the conference had been “a chance to hear from other states about what they think works...We’re looking at all of it,” he added, “ but that doesn’t mean we plan to pursue everything that was talked about today.”

For more background from my past coverage of all this, start here.

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