School Choice & Charters

Jeb Bush Steps Away From His K-12 Advocacy Group With 2016 Run Looming

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 02, 2015 3 min read
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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced that he was ending all of his relationships with several corporations and nonpofit organizations, including his own K-12 advocacy group, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Washington Post reported Jan. 1.

Bush’s aides told the Post in an email that he was leaving these groups in order to focus more time on politics, although the paper also notes that his decision could be an attempt to disentangle himself from relationships that could complicate his potential run for the White House next year. The decision to end his leadership of the foundation and his ties to other groups comes roughly two weeks after Bush announced he was creating an exploratory committee for a potential run for president in 2016.

With Bush as its founder and chairman, the Foundation for Excellence in Education has supported an A-F accountability system, school choice, digital education, and teacher evaluations based on test scores, among other policies. It grew out of Bush’s work during his time as Florida governor from 1999 to 2007, when he oversaw the creation of the state’s A-F system and other major changes to public school policy.

The foundation has become one of the most influential advocacy groups in the country, and it has lobbied and otherwise worked closely with officials in Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and elsewhere to adopt and implement those policies. See my colleague Sean Cavanagh’s story from five years ago about the foundation’s origins and its work in states.

Speaking to Sean for that story, Bush compared the foundation’s work and its goals, appropriately enough, to a run for office: “What I try to tell people interested in starting down this path is [that] taking an idea, converting it into policy, turning that policy into law, and then executing that law is a process that’s not dissimilar to a political campaign. You’re going from start to finish. You have to be intensely focused on this.”

Critics, however, have alleged that the foundation inappropriately lobbies and influences state education leaders on behalf of for-profit entitites, particularly digital education services, as I reported two years ago.

An affiliate of the foundation, Chiefs for Change, consists of several state chiefs who also support the aforementioned policies. Bush also founded and led a state-level version of the Foundation for Florida’s Future. (Bush was still listed as chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the Foundation for Florida’s Future on those websites as of the morning of Jan. 2, and neither group had posted an announcement about his departure.)

Digital Education and Common Core

Bush also announced he was ending his relationship with Academic Partnerships, a company that has converted over 4,000 courses to online formats in over 300 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, according to the company’s website. He earned $60,000 a year as a paid adviser, according to the Post, and also owned a small share of the company’s stock.

Among the company’s senior advisors is James Hunt Jr., the former governor of North Carolina and leader of the Hunt Institute, a K-12 research and advocacy group. Both Hunt and Bush are outspoken supporters of the Common Core State Standards. It’s the standards that will more likely cause Bush heartburn in a run for the White House, potentially in the Republican primary, where it’s possible that Bush would be the only candidate who would offer a strong argument in favor of the common core.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education has actively supported the common core in several states, and whether or not Bush is leading the organization during a presidential run, he would likely face questions about his extensive work on behalf of the common core that goes beyond public speeches.

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