Jeb Bush Sells School Choice at GOP Convention

By Sean Cavanagh — August 31, 2012 2 min read
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School choice, along with most other education issues, has spent a lot of time on the sidelines during a Republican National Convention dominated by economic themes. But for a slice of prime-time television last night, Jeb Bush was able to push his vision of choice into the spotlight.

The former two-term Florida governor spoke on the final night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

Bush championed a sweeping and often controversial education agenda while in office, efforts that included greatly increasing students’ access to vouchers and charters and expanding the use of high-stakes testing. He used the speech to talk about his record, and to make the case for similar efforts elsewhere.

“We give some kids a chance, but not all,” Bush said during his speech. “That failure
is the great moral and economic issue of our time and it is hurting all of America.”

The Republican never mentioned the word “voucher” during his time on stage—instead presenting school choice in broader, and perhaps less-divisive terms.

But there’s no doubt that private-school choice is a big part of the GOP education agenda—it’s a focus of the party’s official platform, and one of the major points of separation between GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Obama. (See my colleague Alyson Klein’s full account of the Bush and Romney speeches, along with the rest of our coverage from the convention.)

Bush criticized those who “say they support strong schools but draw the line at school choice,” and went on to cite “politically powerful unions"—with whom Bush often did battle in Florida—as a prime obstacle.

And at one point Bush argued that choosing from a variety of school options should be as easy and natural as shopping for milk and sifting through the myriad flavors.

“Go down any supermarket aisle and you’ll find an incredible selection of milk,” Bush said. “You can get a whole milk, buttermilk, 2 percent milk, low-fat milk, or skim milk, organic milk, and milk with extra Vitamin D. There’s flavored milk, chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla. And it doesn’t even taste like milk...They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk.”

The question is “shouldn’t parents have that kind of choice in schools that best meet the needs of their students?” he asked.

Bush also introduced a former student from Miami, Frantz Placide, who used a Florida choice program to attend a private school and went on to graduate from college.

The former governor is one of a number of big-name Republicans—others include current governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey—who have given Obama credit for his work on education. Obama’s administration has been a strong supporter of charters schools, as well merit pay and evaluating teachers based on performance, stances that have at times rankled teachers’ unions.

But Bush made no mention of Obama’s education policies, using the time instead to praise a number of Republican governors’ work on education, including Daniels and Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana—both of whom signed into law sweeping voucher expansions—as well as Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bill Haslam of Tennessee, and others.

The Democrats will get their shot next week. Obama’s support for school choice focuses on charters and other public school options—and so, presumably, he and other speakers will try to rebrand the issue in keeping within that vision.

Photo: Frantz Placide and Sean Duffy, center, listen to Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, left, as he speaks during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.(Lynne Sladky/AP)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.