Jeb Bush Stays Focused On Education After Office
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Mitt Romney is broadening his criticism of President Obama into a new area: education. At the Latino Coalition's National Summit, Romney called for more charter schools, school vouchers for low-income students, and more state control. His inspiration?
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MITT ROMNEY: When Jeb Bush became governor of Florida, reading scores among Hispanic students in that state school system were just awful. He brought focused innovation and passionate leadership.
SIEGEL: Jeb Bush hasn't held elected office for more than five year. But as John O'Connor of member station WUSF reports, when it comes to education, Bush still has plenty of influence.
JOHN O'CONNOR, BYLINE: As Florida's governor, education was Jeb Bush's top priority. And in a recent interview, he says it still is.
JEB BUSH: It's a really exciting time to be engaged in education reform. The ultimate objective is not just to reform the system. The ultimate objective is to enhance student learning.
O'CONNOR: Bush and the nonprofit he started, the Foundation for Florida's Future, provide research and political support for his education policies. He has three priorities: Raise standards for students, hold teachers and schools accountable, and expand school choice. Those ideas are no longer unique to Florida because Bush has taken them nationwide.
TONY BENNETT: Jeb Bush, in my opinion, may very well be the leading voice in the United States on education reform.
O'CONNOR: That's Indiana Education Superintendant Tony Bennett. Last year, Bennett called in Bush to push through a bill. Now, Indiana third-graders have to pass a reading test or be held back. Bush remembers when he pioneered the idea in Florida.
BUSH: It was a pretty traumatic time. And what happened was, the system changed. It really did require that you teach children differently so that they could learn how to read.
O'CONNOR: In general, test scores have improved, especially among black and Hispanic students. But students who are held back are also more likely to drop out, and Bush's efforts have created a growing network of critics.
LINDA KOBERT: This looks like Jebucation.
O'CONNOR: That's Linda Kobert, an Orlando mom who started the grassroots group Fund Education Now, with Christine Bramuchi. Bramuchi says they consider themselves the French resistance to Bush's data-heavy ideas. They worry Florida is cutting money and support for public schools.
CHRISTINE BRAMUCHI: We were spectators for a long time ourselves and, you know, when it affected our personal children is when we got involved and then saw the bigger picture.
O'CONNOR: Earlier this year, the moms fought against another Bush priority: the Parent Trigger. That's where parents at a failing public school can vote to convert it to a charter school. The moms ducked chores, and spent hours driving to Parent Trigger hearings in the capital, Tallahassee. And despite the support of the state's GOP leadership and Governor Rick Scott, when the vote came down...
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Secretary will lock the board, and that's the vote.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Twenty yays, 20 nays, Mr. President.
O'CONNOR: Without a majority, it failed. Bramuchi says it's the start of an anti-Bush movement.
BRAMUCHI: This time was different. And I think there were a lot of parents that just became more angry than ever, and they weren't going to let this happen.
O'CONNOR: Bush says he isn't paying attention to the backlash.
BUSH: Those kinds of things scare people, I guess, and so maybe I'm criticized for that. I don't get a lot of direct criticism, though. Maybe I'm not watching.
BUSH: BUSH: And frankly, I don't really care, either.
O'CONNOR: And he's confident that the Parent Trigger Bill will pass in Florida next year. For NPR News, I'm John O'Connor in Tampa.
SIEGEL: That story came from StateImpact, a collaboration between NPR and member stations exploring the effects of state policy on lives and communities.
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