Thursday, September 29, 2011

One-Fifth of America's Chief Executives Convene for NBC Education Summit

There were many opinions under one tent (literally) at this week's Education Nation Summit, the second annual event hosted in New York City on Monday and Tuesday by the folks at NBC. It sometimes made for a few odd exchanges—like, for example, when reform-minded Michelle Rhee shared the stage with AFT President Randi Weingarten. Reason TV captured a portion of that conversation, as well as a few other highlights from the summit, in the video below:

But the stances of both Rhee and Weingarten are already pretty well-known. They specialize in the education reform debate, and anyone who has spent time in it knows where they stand.

Something rather unique, however, was an event that followed. It featured a historic meeting of chief executives on stage, and we're not talking about school principals or central office bureaucrats. This was a meeting of governors—20 percent of the nation's current chief executives, to be exact.

In fact, it was the largest meeting of sitting governors (outside the national and respective party conventions) to ever convene regarding a single topic, and that doesn't even consider the fact that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was in the front row of the crowd (and he even chimed in a few times). The governors in attendance were:
  • Gov. Sean Parnell (D-AK)
  • Gov. Jack Markell (D-DE)
  • Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD)
  • Gov. Mary Fallin (R-OK)
  • Gov. Paul LePage (R-ME)
  • Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO)
  • Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I-RI)
  • Gov. Bill Haslam (R-TN)
  • Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA)
  • Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI)
Moderator Brian Williams gave Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker a few tough questions to start off, but the governor stood firm behind his assertion that he never said he "hates teachers," or anything else incendiary about the profession. Walker received so much attention, of course, as a result of the contentious collective bargaining debate that took place in Wisconsin earlier this year.

We were disappointed that there wasn't much talk of school choice—especially considering the numerous school choice milestones that took place all over the country this year—but Walker made a point to pledge his support for expanded educational options (not a surprise considering his state's huge expansions in 2011).

"I want to afford every kid in every zip code the opportunity for a quality education," he said.
Governors from 10 states talk education reform. From L-R, Parnell, Markell, O'Malley,
Fallin, LePage, Hickenlooper, Williams, Chafee, Haslam, McDonnell, and Walker.
And while most of the states represented at the event aren't currently home to private school choice options, many of the governors spoke of a desire to going a different route when it comes to education.

"We're all trying to change a system that is very entrenched," said Hickenlooper, the former Denver mayor turned Colorado governor.

A strong applause line came in response to a comment by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, in which she pledged her state's unwavering commitment to early childhood education. And Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley spoke broadly on the topic of educational opportunities.

"Poverty should not be an impediment to disadvantaged kids getting an education," he said.

Between jokes about the surprisingly warm stage at 30 Rockefeller Plaza and a bit of fun banter between O'Malley and Williams, there was one comment—from the executive of a state that in June just passed a law authorizing charter schools—that really encapsulated some of the best arguments behind the need for school choice across the country.

"We've put enough money into the system," said Maine Gov. Paul LePage. "It's time we started putting more of that money into the classroom."

There was lots of great stuff, and a genuinely historic event considering the number of governors in attendance. Interested in watching the entire 87-minute discussion? The video is below:

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

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