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Every Student Succeeds Act

Jeb Bush’s K-12 Plan Would Expand School Choice, Reward Effective Teachers

By Alyson Klein — January 18, 2016 4 min read
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Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush—who has the longest education resume of any GOP presidential contender—wants to make it a whole lot easier for parents to send kids to the school of their choice using federal funds, according to an education plan he unveiled online Monday.

The plan, whose rollout was timed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in order to elevate education’s importance as a civil rights issue, includes ideas that past Republican presidential contenders and members of Congress have

pitched, and even dovetails with President Barack Obama’s K-12 playbook in a couple areas.

“Every individual in this country has the right to rise,” Bush wrote in a post on Medium. “Yet today, the American Dream — the idea that anything is possible through hard work — is threatened by an education system failing to prepare the next generation of children for success.”

The plan, which Bush says is “budget neutral,” would:

  • Let families consolidate 529 college savings plans into education savings accounts that could also be used for prekindergarten, elementary school, high school, job training, online courses, and more.
  • Allow states to consolidate some 40 federal education programs and use the money to offer low-income families with kids under 5 annual ESA 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.
  • Give states unspecified new flexibility and freedom from regulation. Leeway for states was a key goal of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a recent write of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and Bush wants to bring that flexibility to areas besides just accountability. He doesn’t detail just how, though.
  • Offer schools that make big academic progress extra money as a reward. (That’s something Obama has pitched too.)
  • Reward teachers in schools that make student achievement gains with extra pay and other incentives. That’s something Bush pushed for as governor of Florida. Obama then took the idea national with Race to the Top and ESEA waivers, with decidedly mixed results.
  • Support “innovative” models of education, such as online course-taking and blended learning.
  • Double federal resources for charter schools, and expand the District of Columbia voucher program.
  • Improve state databases to help figure out whether K-12, higher education, and workforce development programs are actually working.

On the higher education front, Bush wants to give colleges and workforce training programs some “skin in the game,” meaning they’d be partially on the hook if students default on their loans. And he wants to seriously seriously streamline federal student aid programs, offering students a $50,000 line of credit through their ESA to pursue post-secondary programs.

If Bush’s plan sounds familiar, that’s because it borrows ideas from 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s K-12 proposals that Bush helped to craft. Romney also wanted federal funding to follow students to the school of their choice.

And Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Rep. John Kline. R-Minn., tried to incorporate similar proposals into the recent rewrite of the ESEA. They ultimately let the idea of “Title I portability” go (for now) so they could get a bipartisan bill over the finish line.

Less than a year ago, Bush was expected to be a front-runner for the GOP nod and his record and interest in education were supposed to help him stand out from the pack. But Bush has struggled in the polls and is now considered a dark horse for the nomination.

Bush remains only one of two GOP candidates (along with Ohio Gov. John Kasich) who continue to support the Common Core State Standards—and other GOP contenders have attacked him for it.

Kasich, Carson Have K-12 Plans Too

Bush isn’t the first presidential Republican contender to sketch out a plan for K-12. His plan shares some common elements with Kasich, who also wants to see serious program consolidation in the Education Department, and Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon-turned-presidential contender.

Carson’s plan calls for a lot of the same agenda items as Bush’s, albeit in less detail. He also wants to boost charter schools, expand school vouchers, cut “red tape” for school districts and states, and simplify the federal student financial aid system.

And Carson wants to create a block grant to reward effective teachers and help develop teacher-evaluation systems that take effectiveness into account. (As most Politics K-12 readers know, Obama made those policies a centerpiece of his K-12 agenda. That led to changes in dozens of states, but also generated big blowback, culminating in the federal government being restricted from monkeying around in teacher evaluation under ESSA.)

So far, none of the top Democratic contenders—former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders—has released a comprehensive K-12 education plan, although both have been talking quite a bit about higher education.

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