Former governor of Florida Jeb Bush is hosting an education summit in Tallahassee today that is predicted to have a sold-out crowd on the inside and a significant number of protesters on the outside.
The conference at Florida State University will take place in The Alumni Center and will include over 200 attendees along with the possible addition of more on a waiting list, writes the Orlando Sentinel's Leslie Postal. As he is in the midst of a presidential run for 2016, it is likely that Bush is a large part of the attraction.
Bush made education a priority during his two terms in office, but the timing of this summit, "a conversation about accountability and choice" comes right before the Legislature's session, so it is probably very much about state politics. During his time as governor, Bush signed a law which introduced the country's first A to F grading system for public schools based largely on student test scores. He also approved a law that gave more options to students other than traditional public schools, such as tuition vouchers for private schools.
Bush's foundation supports the idea that the two of the most important factors for increasing the potential of students are accountability and choice, which, foundation members say, was proven by the improved public education in the state. The organization is pushing for new legislation along these same lines.
"Florida's education turnaround is undeniable, but we need to do more, which is why were convening," said Allison Aubuchon, spokesman for the Foundation for Florida's Future, Bush's influential education group.
The opposition will demonstrate on sidewalks outside the center to argue against the "harmful and damaging high-stakes testing education policies implemented by Florida Republicans over the past 17 years," according to Tom James, a Miami-Dade County teacher and spokesman for the Florida branch of the Badass Teachers Association. They also want more autonomy for teachers and less influence by "corporate driven entities" in public education. Other protesters will include teachers, Florida Democrats, PTAs, parents, and FSU groups.
James added that Florida dropped to #28 in Education Week's recent national rankings, and, even though Florida spends less than the other 49 states on public education, Bush and his allies have spent billions in the charter, voucher, virtual, and testing industries, reports Alex Leary of The New York Times. In a Bush speech in Detroit last week, he disagreed with the media, which he accuses of telling the public that conservatives do not care about cities. Bush says they do.
"I know, because I've lived it. I come from Miami, another city that faced the same struggles as Detroit. In my city, the schools were failing, opportunity was scarce and for too many, simply being born in the wrong neighborhood meant the American Dream was cruelly out of reach.
"I joined with my friend, Willard Fair, a courageous leader in the civil rights movement. We decided that the right to rise, was also a civil right. So we went to work to change education in Florida. While there's much more to do, we saw lives changed and hope restored. "You can do it, here in Detroit. We can do it, across America."
Some of the biggest names in Florida politics will be featured at the summit: Bush, Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Andy Gardiner, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.
Progress Florida, a non-profit social justice advocacy group wants to provide "an important counterpoint" to the foundation's summit. They feel that Bush and his allies want Floridians to finance two school systems — a public and a private — through the use of unaccountable private school voucher programs.