Maine’s State Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen went to San Francisco to hear Jeb Bush tout the glories of for-profit online charter schools. Jeb Bush’s foundation paid for the trip. The commissioner met with Jeb’s chief education aide, Patricia Levesque, whose company lobbies for the online corporations. She promised help.
Bowen was preparing an aggressive reform drive on initiatives intended to dramatically expand and deregulate online education in Maine, but he felt overwhelmed.
“I have no ‘political’ staff who I can work with to move this stuff through the process,” he emailed her from his office.
Levesque replied not to worry; her staff in Florida would be happy to suggest policies, write laws and gubernatorial decrees, and develop strategies to ensure they were implemented.
“When you suggested there might be a way for us to get some policy help, it was all I could do not to jump for joy,” Bowen wrote Levesque from his office.
“Let us help,” she responded.
So was a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.
In the months that followed, according to more than 1,000 pages of emails obtained by a public records request, the commissioner would rely on the foundation to provide him with key portions of his education agenda. These included draft laws, the content of the administration’s digital education strategy and the text ofGov. Paul LePage’s Feb. 1 executive order on digital education.
A Maine Sunday Telegram investigation found large portions of Maine’s digital education agenda are being guided behind the scenes by out-of-state companies that stand to capitalize on the changes, especially the nation’s two largest online education providers.
K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., and Connections Education, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of education publishing giant Pearson, are both seeking to expand online offerings and to open full-time virtual charter schools in Maine, with taxpayers paying the tuition for the students who use the services.