Jeb Bush Plays Education Policy Confidant to Fla.'s Gov. Scott

By Sean Cavanagh — August 24, 2011 2 min read
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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has gained a reputation for dishing out advice on education policy to conservative policymakers around the country, often at their request. Now, newly released e-mails offer insight on the counsel Bush has offered to the current governor of his own state.

Bush, who served as Florida’s governor from 1999 to 2007, recommended that Gov. Rick Scott champion “education savings accounts,” a major expansion of the state’s current voucher programs, according to the Associated Press.

The idea is to allow K-12 students to take a large share of the per-pupil allotment they receive for public school and use it for private school tuition instead. While many state voucher programs offer public money for private schools for targeted populations—such as special-needs and disadvantaged students—some have described education savings accounts as “vouchers for all.”

In one e-mail, the former governor told fellow Republican Scott that a savings-account-style voucher expansion would likely face legal challenges—as did one Bush-created voucher program, which was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006.

“I am guessing lawyers inside Tallahassee will say that it is not constitutional,” Bush wrote. “I don’t know how our court will respond but it will be a game changer for the country and you might have the chance to change the makeup of the court.”

The e-mails appear to be written to Scott, who won election last November, as he was preparing to take office in January. The AP reports that the incoming governor forwarded the e-mails and attachments to his transition adviser.

Those trying to connect the dots between Bush and the current governor might note that Scott’s transition team recommended the creation of education savings accounts, before Scott took office. (Bush’s former deputy chief of staff for education, Patricia Levesque, was a member of that team, as was Michelle Rhee, among others.) An education savings account proposal failed to muster support in the legislature this year, but it could come back.

Bush also told Scott to consider selling the Florida Virtual School, saying that while it makes money, it could make “more in the private sector.” He added: “You could use the proceeds to fund a technology initiative that would lead the nation.”

The e-mails also include some colorfully worded and blunt political advice to Scott, such as the suggestion that: “It’s OK to veto stupid bills. Trust me, legislators get over it.” Bush also advises the new governor to “own” and “dominate” the annual budget, because it’s the “path to good policy.”

The former governor explained his e-mails by telling AP that he was following a tradition of giving advice to incoming governors.

“If the policy ideas I sent played a role in the conversations and decisions, I am flattered,” he said in an e-mail.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the Bush’s written advice, courtesy of the Miami Herald.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.