Guest post by Andrew Ujifusa
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush officially declared that he will seek the presidency next year during a speech at the Kendall campus of Miami Dade College in Miami on June 15. He has perhaps the most extensive and complicated track record in education among all the Republican presidential hopefuls.
Bush, who served two terms as Florida governor before leaving the office in 2007, has been a presumptive GOP candidate for many months. In the early stages of exploring a run for the White House, he left his role as head of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the national K-12 policy group he founded. At his request, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took over as chairwoman of the organization’s board of directors.
Bush had used the foundation to lobby other states to adopt policies similar to those he championed as Florida governor regarding school choice and literacy.
It has exerted notable influence in a variety of states’ education policy decisions over the last several years, and spawned an affiliate of state superintendents, Chiefs for Change, that recently ended its formal relationship with the foundation.
Let’s take a quick look at Bush’s record.
A Florida Transformation
As Florida governor, Bush is most famous for successfully pushing his state to adopt the A-Plus Plan, a policy package lawmakers approved in 1999.
Briefly stated, the A-Plus Plan required schools to be held accountable using A-F letter grades, and established a new series of standardized tests to measure students’ academic performance. It also instituted new “Opportunity Scholarships” that allowed students greater freedom to attend schools of their choice through vouchers.
The voucher plan in particular triggered strong opposition to the A-Plus Plan—the Florida Supreme Court struck down these vouchers as unconstitutional in 2006. However, in 2001, Bush signed into law a tax-credit scholarship program that has grown into the largest single school choice program of any state in the country so far as measured by the number of participating students, with about 70,000 low-income students using them in the most recent school year.
In 1999, Florida also allowed alternative certification for teachers. And in 2003, the state ended social promotion for 3rd graders who could not demonstrate literacy—this policy in particular has gained traction (as well as a good deal of criticism) in several states since.
Earlier this year, I also highlighted Bush’s emails during his time in office that showed his thinking about Florida’s standards before the state adopted the Common Core State Standards. Florida altered its standards after those emails before adopting the common core in 2010.
Policy and Advocacy
Bush’s post-gubernatorial career in many ways is characterized by his work leading his national foundation as well as the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a similar K-12 policy group focused on the Sunshine State. He’s also made a lot of news for his position on the common core.
In a 2011 story, Education Week profiled Bush and his work at the Foundation for Excellence in Education attempting to push education policy overhauls in states. The foundation has been instrumental in many states’ decisions to adopt policies such as accountability systems based on the A-F grades and increased school choice he oversaw during his time as Florida governor. At the time, he was also serving as a K-12 policy “confidante” to Gov. Rick Scott, a fellow Republican.
In that story, Bush told my co-worker Sean Cavanagh that he pushed governors and others to seek bold K-12 changes, and added: “If they want to be elected and be popular, then they probably ought to go do something else. This takes a lot of hard work, and it’s typically pretty controversial.”
At the 2012 Republican National Convention, he stressed the importance of creating more educational options for students, saying that choice shouldn’t be confined to varieties of milk at the grocery store. And in a post-2012 election discussion at the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s annual summit, he urged public officials to carry on with controversial initiatives despite the “tire marks” left on many officials after political battles. He also has been a proponent of digital education.
More recently, although many other GOP presidential hopefuls have come out against the common-core standards, Bush has vigorously defended them. In a 2014 speech, for example, he said that there’s no similar debate over standards in countries like China.
From the Archives
The great team at the Education Week Library has also put together a sample of clips about Bush’s record on education through the years. The first one dates back to 1998—check them out below.
October, 21, 1998 - Running on Education: One Candidate’s Story
May 5, 1999 - Florida OKs 1st Statewide Voucher Plan
Nov. 24, 1999 - Jeb Bush Seeks Race-Based-Admissions Ban
March 1, 2005 - Gov. Bush Wants 170,000 More Vouchers for Florida
April 4, 2006 - Florida Lawmakers Float New Voucher Plans
Dec. 29, 2010 - Jeb Bush’s Influence on Education Policy Spreads
Jan. 20, 2011 - Jeb Bush Advocates for Tech. in Schools (with video)
Jan. 26, 2011 - Jeb Bush to GOP: Appeal to Hispanics on Education Issues
Photo: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush helped 5th graders Angelica Pinero, center, and Diamonique Christian, right, with math exercises at Tangelo Park Elementary School in Orlando, Fla. Mr. Bush visited the school as part of his work with his Foundation for Excellence in Education. Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/AP