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Trump Slammed Jeb Bush, But His Former Staffers Are Joining Betsy DeVos

By Alyson Klein — October 31, 2017 4 min read
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President Donald Trump beat up on former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on the 2016 presidential campaign trail, calling him “low-energy” and out of touch with voters.

But a lot of people who used to work for or with Bush have joined or are slated to join the U.S. Department of Education. Here’s a quick list:

  • U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos served on the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. (She resigned before becoming secretary.)
  • Former South Carolina schools chief Mick Zais, who has been nominated as her deputy, endorsed Bush’s 2016 presidential bid.
  • Carlos Muñiz, who has been nominated as general counsel, was a deputy general counsel under Bush in Florida.
  • Jim Blew, who was tapped for assistant secretary of planning evaluation and policy analysis, was the director of K-12 reform at the Walton Family Foundation, which is one of the biggest donors to Bush’s education foundation.
  • And DeVos’ chief of staff, Josh Venable, DeVos’ chief-of-staff, spent almost two years as the national director of advocacy and legislation at the foundation.

Frank Brogan, who served as Bush’s lieutenant governor, is also rumored to be on the short list for a post at the department, likely the assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, which could take on an expanded role under his leadership.

There were also a couple of folks with ties to the Foundation of Excellence in Education in the initial group of staffers who came to the department during Trump’s transition into the White House. One is Andrew Kossack, who did a seven-month stint at the foundation as a deputy policy director. The other is Neil Ruddock, who appears to have served as the foundation’s regional advocacy director for the past four years. (Kossack is now working as an associate counsel for Vice President Mike Pence.)

DeVos has called Florida—which has a robust charter sector, a tax-credit scholarship, and offers vouchers to students in special education—a model for the nation.

And DeVos has visited seven schools in Florida, including a mix of public, private, and charter schools. That’s more than any other state. The only place where she’s been to more schools is Washington, D.C., which is, of course, home to the U.S. Department of Education. DeVos’ second-favorite state is Indiana, which also has vouchers and a big charter sector. She’s been to at least six schools in the Hoosier State, according to our tracker of DeVos’ school visits.

What Should We Make of the Trump-Bush Links in Education?

“It’s somewhat ironic given Trump’s quite harsh take towards Jeb Bush during the election,” noted Max Eden, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a free-market think tank. “I don’t know what it says about policy that we haven’t already figured out.”

When Trump came in, Eden said, there was some question about whether he was even going to name an education secretary and keep the department open. And later, there was a lot of speculation about whether there would be a major school choice initiative. For now, it doesn’t look like either of those things will happen.

Bush is known as a big fan of school choice, but he’s also an “education governance” guy who doesn’t tend to run to extremes, Eden said. And having a bunch of people who worked with him in key roles at the department probably means that the federal role won’t totally go away.

“If the Trump department of education [wanted to] dramatically shrink the federal role, we wouldn’t expect to see people who were respected as being competent professionals, we would see more of a slash-and-burn group,” Eden said.

And folks who want to a big reduction of the federal role in K-12 aren’t thrilled with how the Trump administration’s department is shaping up. Jane Robbins, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project, a right-leaning think tank, wrote recently that she’s worried that the department is being staffed with people who, in her mind, aren’t very different from the Obama team.

“With the proper personnel, the Trump administration could revolutionize public education by restoring to states their constitutional authority -to create their own standards, choose their own assessments, hire and evaluate their own teachers, and structure their system however they see fit,” wrote Robbins in an October post on the Truth in American Education blog. “Will DeVos make that happen? Or will she allow Democrat and Bush minions to undermine the agenda her boss ran on? Too soon to tell, but the warning signs are there.” (It’s worth pointing out that, under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states already get to pick their own standards and tests, and decide how to evaluate teachers.)

Photo: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush looks at the convention floor from the podium during a microphone check at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

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