From the Current by James Call
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush used a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention to further his reputation as an advocate for reforming public education. He called it “the great moral and economic issue of our time.”
In a 15-minute speech Thursday night, Bush called on the nation to set high standards for education and provide an equal opportunity for all students.
“The sad truth is that equality of opportunity doesn’t exist in many of our schools. We give some kids a chance, but not all,” Bush said.
While in the governor’s office from 1999 to 2007, Bush pushed for an accountability system that included grading schools based on student performance on standardized tests and proposals that funneled tax dollars to private schools. A coalition of groups including the state teachers union challenged the voucher program and the Florida Supreme Court ruled it constitutional. Bush referred to the union on Thursday as a “politically powerful” group that is a “master of delays and deferrals.”
“It’s what we’ve been hearing from Jeb Bush for a decade and half,” said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, the statewide union representing teachers and school employees.
“The Legislature is two-thirds Republican. Teachers and educators and school employees have not ever been consulted about the direction that we’ve taken in education for Florida for the past 15 years. I think a political powerful entity would not be in this situation,” Pudlow said.
Once he left the governor’s mansion, Bush formed the Excellence in Education Foundation to continue advocating for higher standards, accountability and school choice. In his convention speech, Bush suggested that failure in the public education system is excused because children are judged “based on their race, ethnicity, or household income.”
“That is kind of an insult to the teaching profession,” said Pudlow, who contends that Bush continues to influence, if not set, education policy in Florida.
“This is his (Bush’s) system and it still has many problems,” Pudlow said. “It’s underfunded, parents have shown how dissatisfied they are with the changing rules on standardized tests, teacher morale is horrible, administrators feel powerless and the only people who seem happy are the for-profit institutions that are making a play for our public education.”
Bush in his speech, however, drew attention to reform-minded Republican governors in nine states, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, whose leadership he said has resulted in more students reading at grade level and graduating from high school.
As for his critics, Bush said, “You can either help the politically powerful unions. Or you can help the kids.”