Former Republican Governor Jeb Bush has urged Hispanic officials from around the country to accept the education reforms he made in Florida, such as school choice vouchers and an increased focus on accountability. He said many of education’s problems were to do with the intrusion of politics into policy and noted that he was proud to introduce President Obama at a Miami high school in 2011 because while they have marked political differences, their views on education overlap.
“When we find common ground we shouldn’t fight any more. We should move on and build on that success,” said Bush, who also referred to recent criticism over remarks he made about the need for compromise in Washington. “Apparently one can get in trouble when they say these kinds of things, but I happen to believe it’s the American way. There’s enough to fight about.”
Bush was talking to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and enjoyed a warm reception. His 18 minute speech was completely focused on education. He spoke of the need for stricter accountability standards for schools, the abandonment of passing students on from grades when they can’t read and the expansion of voucher programs which promote choice.
“School choice is a catalytic converter for rising student achievement. In Florida we started on this path before anybody else – you would have thought the world was coming to an end,” said Bush, who, in Spanish, compared school choice to the choices grocery shoppers have for leche (milk) – whole, 2 percent fat, chocolate, soy and more. “We should not depend on monopolies to be able to drive education excellence as quickly as we need it to happen.”
He also emphasized the need to promote literacy at home, and pointed out that literacy and graduation rates have both been steadily improving since 1999 when he took office and began his program of education reforms. Switching occasionally to Spanish, Bush railed against what he called the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ which was a moral failure on the part of the country. What is needed instead is for lofty expectations to be had of every child, regardless of their background or whether they are newly arrived.
“We have no tolerance for saying that in this great country a fourth grader should be passed along simply because they strapped their butts in a seat for 180 days breathing oxygen and exhaling CO2 and not learning anything,” Bush said. “If we get this right, our diversity becomes a strength, our country will prosper, our country will continue to be the greatest country on the face of the earth.”