AUGUSTA, Maine — School choice and education reforms championed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will get top billing later this month at an education summit set up by Gov. Paul LePage.
The summit, promised by LePage during his State of the State Address, will feature speakers from all over the country, according to new details about the summit released Thursday.
“We are bringing national experts to Maine to demonstrate what other states are doing and why we are being left behind,” said LePage. “We can no longer stand still, we cannot wallow in the status quo. The rest of the country and the world is passing us by.”
During his State of the State speech, the governor said he favors school choice and charter schools because they provide more choices for students, though opponents of those ideas say they funnel too much taxpayer money away from public schools. A LePage proposal to open up school choice in Maine failed to gain legislative approval, though his initiative to create charter schools in Maine passed. The state’s first two charter schools opened last year.
“School choice benefits all kids who deserve the best education that we can provide,” said LePage during the speech. “Giving students options such as charter schools is more than just a political position.”
LePage said he spends a lot of his free time studying education reform, which has been at the core of his priorities as governor. The education summit is billed as a venue to breed new ideas.
The March 22 summit at Cony High School in Augusta will feature keynote speaker Dr. Tony Bennett, the commissioner of education in Florida, and the first session is titled “The Florida Story.” Three employees of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which was founded by Bush in 2008 as an education reform think tank, will speak during the morning session: Patricia Levesque, the foundation’s CEO, Matthew Ladner, its senior policy advisor, and Mike Thomas, who runs the foundation’s communications department.
The second session, titled “Stretching the School Dollar,” will feature Eric Lerum, vice president of national policy for StudentsFirst, another national think tank pursuing education reform. StudentsFirst was founded by education policy guru Michelle Rhee, author of “Radical: Fighting to Put Students First.” Also speaking will be Dr. Alden Monberg, a retired Maine Maritime Academy professor. In addition to her experience with the academy, Monberg is a former member of the Orono School Committee, served on the board of directors for the Region 4 United Technologies Center and was a director for the Maine School Board Association.
The third session is titled School Choice. LePage’s administration has been a vocal supporter of school choice, which allows students to pick the school they wish to attend and have public education dollars fund their tuition. The speakers in this session will include Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform; Rep. Alisha Morgan, a Democrat in the Georgia House of Representatives, recipient of the “Champion for Choice” award from the American Federation for Children; and Rene Menard, head of school for Thornton Academy in Saco.