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Jeb Bush and Education: Five Facts to Know Before the New Hampshire Primary

By Alyson Klein — February 05, 2016 3 min read
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A year ago, many folks were betting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would be the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination at this point in the race. That probably would have put education front-and-center as a campaign issue—Bush has one of the longest records on K-12 of any politician in the country, never mind the GOP field.

He’s helped set the national K-12 agenda—and generated plenty of controversy in the process.

But the race hasn’t turned out the way many expected. In fact, it’s unlikely Bush will even finish in second place in the New Hampshire primary next Tuesday. Still, his poll numbers are within striking distance of those of fellow GOP candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who we profiled earlier. So, we couldn’t resist giving you some Jeb highlights, if only because of his outsized profile on the issue— there’s so much territory to mine.

Here we go:

1. Bush wants to go big or go home on school choice.

Bush’s education plan is, essentially, school choice on steroids. It would allow states to consolidate some 40 federal education programs and use the money to offer low-income families with children under 5 annual Education Savings Account deposits of up to $2,500. States could also allow federal Title I funds for low-income students and federal money for special education to follow children to the school of their choice, including a private school.

Bush’s school choice love didn’t come out of nowhere. As governor of Florida he championed “Opportunity Scholarships” or vouchers (which were later struck down in court) and tax credits

for K-12.

2. Bush is a fan of the Common Core State Standards. And if states aren’t going to do common core, that’s fine, but he at least wants high standards.

In late 2014, when the GOP primary was just getting started, Bush had an opportunity to back down from his support of the common core. He didn’t take it. Instead ,he made it clear that he still supported the standards. States, he said, don’t have to stick with common core, but if they don’t, they need to have high standards. Bush’s rivals have attacked him over and over again for his support of common core.

3. Bush is a school accountability hawk, but his policies look different from the ones his brother, President George W. Bush, championed in office.

During the No Child Left Behind Act era, which essentially gave schools a “pass or fail,” Jeb Bush sought what he thought of as more-nuanced accountability system in Florida. He graded schools on an A through F scale. Later, through his non-profit organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Bush pushed other states to adopt the policy. And Bush is a big fan of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which turns much greater control of K-12 education to states and districts.

Bush also ended social promotion for 3rd-graders—and in February of last year, he was pretty unapologetic about it, saying sarcastically of those who oppose the policy, “God forbid if little Johnny is stressed out. How horrible it is for their self-esteem if they’re held back.”

4. Bush was an early fan of the use of alternative routes into the teaching profession and performance pay.

In Florida, Bush pushed for tougher standards for educators, alternative routes for teachers, and merit pay. He later helped champion those policies—as well as data-driven instruction and evaluations based in part on student outcome—through his foundation. And he’s made rewarding effective teachers a piece of his K-12 plan this year.

5. Bush took his education policy show on the road after his gubernatorial term ended.

Through his foundation, Bush helped push states to enact rigorous standards, teacher evaluation through test scores, and expanded school choice. He pushed for more online learning. And he was the godfather of a group of state chiefs that supported many of those policies, Chiefs for Change.

BONUS: Bush told me back in 2012 that he admired President Barack Obama for being willing to challenge his own party on education issues. (He wished the president had done more on school choice, though.) And he praised then-U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan calling him a “great choice. ... it could have been a lot worse.”

Want more? Read our previous profiles of Republican contenders Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, real estate mogul Donald Trump, and Democratic contenders former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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