AUBURN – The state’s top education official was questioned Wednesday about why he attended a closed-door meeting at the Blaine House this week on education funding that was in violation of the state’s open-meeting law.

Maine Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Bill Beardsley, who had just given a wide-ranging talk on education to about 24 people at a Maine Heritage Policy Center luncheon, was asked during the question-and-answer period why he attended an illegal meeting.

Beardsley, who is chairman of the commission, echoed what the governor’s staff has said in recent days.

“I think the governor wanted to have people around a breakfast table, informally talking,” he said of Monday’s three-hour meeting, which had a four-page agenda and multiple presentations. “Don’t begrudge a few people who had a chance to visit over coffee.”

Later, he said he consulted with the governor’s office in advance of the first meeting of the Commission To Reform Public Education Funding and Improve Student Performance.

“I asked the governor’s office and they said if it’s informal and in a private setting then it’s fine,” Beardsley said.

Two lawmakers and several other people were refused entry to the meeting. The Attorney General’s Office has said it should have been an open meeting and that they are reviewing the situation.

A violation of the state’s open-meeting law, which is covered under the Freedom of Access Act, is a civil violation punishable by a fine of up to $500.

In Wednesday’s speech, Beardsley said it was a “moral obligation to help the kids most in need” and that a top priority would be to close the achievement gap between students in wealthy districts and students in poorer districts.

“Somehow we have to break and destroy that achievement-income gap,” he said.

Beardsley also said the state’s educators have too many non-teaching responsibilities.

“All the well-intentioned bureaucratic add-ons are weighing teachers down,” he said. “Teachers’ face time with kids seems to be declining as red tape seems to be rising.”

When asked if the state spent enough on education, he said he didn’t know. “That’s a political decision,” he said.

Beardsley became the state’s top education official two weeks ago after Gov. Paul LePage signed a special order giving him the powers of commissioner without the title and bypassing the legislative confirmation process. LePage had nominated him for commissioner, then withdrew it when he believed Democrats might block the nomination.

Beardsley had faced controversy before during the state’s nomination process, getting appointed to the State Board of Education in 2012 after a significant floor debate and a party-line vote.

Beardsley previously served as commissioner of the Department of Conservation from 2011 to 2012 and was president of Husson University from 1987 to 2010.