Bush Passionate About School Issues, Advisers Say

By Erik W. Robelen — August 02, 2000 3 min read

Texas Gov. George W. Bush is passionate, engaged, and knowledgeable when it comes to education issues, two of his advisers said in an interview with Education Week during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia this week.

Margaret La Montagne, a senior adviser to Gov. Bush in Austin, and Sandy Kress, a Dallas attorney who is involved in the Bush campaign, have worked closely with the governor on education since he was first elected the Lone State State’s chief executive in 1995. The two have been meeting with state delegations in Philadelphia during the GOP convention to discuss Gov. Bush’s record on education and his agenda. They took a break to talk with Education Week Tuesday afternoon before meeting with delegates from Arkansas and Alabama.

“He put huge energy and spirit and curiosity into [Texas education reform] ahead of deciding to run for governor,” said Mr. Kress, who was the president of the Dallas School Board from 1994 to 1996. “He really gave vision to that budding philosophy of . . . more local control with accountability.” He added: “He is so passionate about [education]. He lives and breathes this thing.”

Mr. Kress recalls meeting with Gov. Bush for more than two hours in the summer of 1993 to talk about education in Texas. Mr. Kress, a former chairman of the Dallas County Democratic Party, admitted to being a bit surprised to get the invitation from a Republican. But Mr. Kress had chaired a task force that made recommendations to the state on creating a new school accountability system, and Mr. Bush wanted some information.

“He was fact-finding,” Mr. Kress said. “Note pad in hand, he rolled me over— What did you do? Why did you do it?—100 questions. He was just digging and researching. He left having drained me.”

During the meeting, Mr. Bush asked Mr. Kress to provide the names of 10 to 15 of the people who have done the most for education in Texas. “Later, I learned that he’d called them all,” he said.

On the campaign trail this year, Gov. Bush has repeatedly cited achievement gains by Texas students during his time in office. But critics charge that the governor is taking credit for progress that began under his predecessors. His likely Democratic rival for the presidency, Vice President Al Gore, has also taken swipes at the governor’s support for vouchers to pay for the private education of students in failing public schools. (“Bush Record on Education Defies Labels,” Sept. 22, 1999.)

This week, however, Gov. Bush’s advisers painted the picture of a man deeply involved in school issues in his home state.

Ms. La Montagne recalls how, after the state legislature approved new reading legislation the governor had championed, he personally met in small groups with the superintendents of the 25 largest school districts in Texas. He wanted to talk about their plans for improving reading proficiency in their schools. “What are you doing about it?” she recalls him asking, “because I’m serious about it.”

This is consistent with the hands-on style of leadership the governor has brought to education in Texas, she said, noting that he would meet regularly with the education commissioner and other senior officials to talk about the progress underway. “He’s relentless,” she said. “He was the boss, and he grilled the managers.”

Gov. Bush has taken an “executive, business-type approach to education in Texas,” Mr. Kress added. He has considered the range of issues, from early-childhood education to curriculum and textbooks to social promotion and raising standards.

Both advisers agreed that the governing philosophy of Gov. Bush’s approach to education at the federal level would echo his state-level themes: local control and accountability. She said Gov. Bush is always clear about his goals. “I know what the yardstick is,” she said. “I know what the core principles are.”