For Immediate Release
March 22, 2013
Putting Students First, or Corporate Mega-Donors?
Gov. LePage Convenes Conference for Corporations to Set Maine Education Policy
Portland - In his latest attempt to dismantle Maine’s public education system, Governor LePage will convene a conference today comprised mostly of out-of-state ideologues, primarily from Florida. The purpose of this conference is to encourage radical education "reforms" in Maine. 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.
The conference agenda features several speakers who are current staffers at the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), a national education "reform" think tank founded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. These speakers include FEE CEO Patricia Levesque, a registered Florida lobbyist for digital education companies, and Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett, who is giving the keynote address. FEE is considered to be one of the key groups responsible for influencing LePage on the failed virtual for-profit schools initiative in Maine.
“The conference’s keynote, Tony Bennett, has a failed past as an education ‘reformer’ and should in no way have a say in the future of Maine’s education system,” says Chris Korzen, executive director of Maine’s Majority. “Bennett was just kicked out of Indiana as superintendent because voters overwhelmingly rejected his crazy agenda. We’ve got to start asking ourselves, why are people from Indiana and Florida suddenly interested in changing our schools? The answer is simple: they are positioned to profit financially from those reforms.”
The Foundation for Excellence in Education has close ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a membership organization funded by the Koch brothers that offers state legislators conservative sample legislation to introduce across the country. FEE and ALEC frequently share “experts” and collaborate on ALEC’s annual education “report card." States are graded annually by how closely their schools adhere to ALEC policies, rather than actual performance. The Center for Education Reform, another group with a speaking role at the conference, also serves on ALEC’s Education Task Force.
As reported earlier this year in the Portland Press Herald, Maine’s education commissioner Stephen Bowen has been serving at the discretion of the FEE for months, attempting to implement education reforms with direct benefits to for-profit education companies. It’s no secret that he has outsourced key policy development, strategic planning and legislative drafting responsibilities to FEE. Details of these exchanges can be found at http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/node/2743.
A 2012 Maine's Majority Education Fund report also detailed extensive involvement of ALEC in crafting the LePage education agenda.
“This education conference is just one example to show that corporate profiteering is alive and well in Maine. Corporate behemoths like the Koch brothers and their cronies – Governor LePage, ALEC, and FEE – will choose their bottom line over sound education policy, children, and families every time. It’s up to the people of Maine to reject these efforts to use our communities as pawns,” Korzen concluded.