Remarks: Thank you, Steve. Thank you, Michelle.

All the appreciation goes to you and your friends here at Cony for hosting our education conference. I thank you for allowing us to use your space for the day and thank you for leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance today. Michelle, may I ask you a question? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? {Michelle’s response} Would you believe it when I was your age I looked forward to becoming a Pepsi-Cola truck driver. [LAUGHTER] I did! {Michelle’s sits down with the rest of the panel members on stage} Although, my high school guidance counselor told me I should be a painter. To tell you the truth, that didn’t sit too well with me. It actually motivated me to pursue college because I knew deep down I could prove that counselor wrong. So, I sent letters to about 50 colleges. I was rejected 50 times.

You see, my first language was and is French. Je parle Francais bien. And even though I was rejected 50 times, one person decided to take a chance on me. The President of Husson College at the time allowed me to take my entrance testing in French. I excelled and I was accepted. Education is the key to unlocking life’s experiences and opportunities. It allowed me to escape a life of poverty and the reason I am a very passionate person about education. My passion is not to attack the public school system. I speak passionately about education because it saved my life. I cannot accept and I cannot listen and I do not have the patience to accept children falling through the cracks, and listening to excuses instead of finding solutions. As a homeless child on the streets of Lewiston, it never occurred to me once that someday I could be a successful businessman, a mayor, or even a governor. Finding the next meal, a warm place to sleep was my primary goal. However, through hard work, lots of luck, and strong mentors, education became very crucial. I was convinced that I could better my place in life and

contribute to society with a good education. I climbed out of poverty; I could have easily spent a life in jail or on the streets. But I was fortunate. I benefited from the structure and discipline of the public—parochial school system back when I was in school. The education allowed me to succeed despite starting out in extreme poverty. That’s why when I hear people say that I’m cutting education I scratch my head. I have a budget before the Legislature right now spending 84 million more in education than when I took office four years ago. If passed, I will spend $84 million more over four years than my predecessor did in his last budget. But today we’re not debating the money. We’re here to talk about important reform. Today we have the opportunity to discuss a variety of options for our students from schools of choice to virtual learning and programs like Jobs for Maine’s Graduates and the Fifth year high school model. Maine is the fortieth state in the country to pass charter school legislation. Charter schools are part of the mainstream options in American education, but they are also only one option available to students. A quality education allows for students to discover what inspires them.

We will have the chance to talk about teacher effectiveness. Next to a good parent, a teacher is the most important element for a good education. I have said that we have winners and losers in our current education model and I’ll say it again. Union bosses and administrators enjoy many benefits and protections, while teachers and students have been displaced. There is too much money going to unions and administration when that money should be put into the classroom. We must focus on providing the tools necessary for teachers to succeed such as ongoing training and professional development. Our last panel of the day will highlight some great reforms Florida has put in place. The Florida model incorporates a combination of reforms that have improved the quality of education for their students. Since a school grading system was launched in 1999, Florida has reversed a generation of decline in education. We’ll learn more about how they turned around a failing system. The results are remarkable. In 1998, nearly half of Florida’s fourth graders were functionally illiterate. Today, Florida’s fourth graders and eighth graders are above the national average in reading and fourth graders are above the

national average in math with eighth graders closing in on that benchmark. We can learn how to improve our education system by listening to others. Today, we have the opportunity to listen to a wide variety of folks from across the country. These are leaders in education reform and it is a pleasure to have each one of you here today. Finally, this afternoon you will have an opportunity to hear from Tony Bennett, Florida Commissioner of Education. He made some great reforms in Indiana prior to his move down south and it’s great to have him here today to share with us some of those initiatives and thoughts. Thank you for coming and while we are here let’s have a good discussion and work toward policies that are meaningful for our students. I will leave you with one thought to keep in mind. This conference isn’t about proving anyone right or wrong. It’s about putting our students first. When we put our students first, the decisions come easily. It’s not about what you or what I want; it’s about what works best for our students. Thank you.

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