Jeb Bush Scolds Unions, Praises School Choice

By: Whitney Ray
By: Whitney Ray

August 31, 2012

There’s a battle in Florida over the best way to educate kids. At the Republican National Convention former Governor Jeb Bush told the nation, Florida is on the right path. That path heads in the direction of more charter schools and less funding for traditional public schools.

At the RNC, Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush praised the state’s gains in education.

“In 1999, we were at the bottom of the nation in education. For this past decade this state has been on a path of reform,” said Bush.

1999 is also the year Bush became governor and sparked a battle between the charter school industry and teachers unions. Union Spokesman Mark Pudlow says Bush enacted a grading system to undermined traditional public schools.

“I think he’s changed education and not always for the better,” said Pudlow.

Florida had 125 charter schools when Bush took office. Today there are more than 500.

The charter school boom can be traced back to Bush’s tough grading system and the school voucher program, which allows students to receive scholarships to switch schools.

Now there’s even a yearly celebration of the changes at the state capitol during legislative session. It’s called School Choice Day, and along with the celebration there’s usually a bill to expand the program. This year the bill failed. Bush blames unions.

“You can either help the politically powerful unions of you can help kids,” said Bush.

But unions say the transfer of funds from traditional public schools to charter schools is weakening the entire education system.

“Instead of trying to make sure every public school in Florida is as good as it could possible be, they want to turn it over to business,” said Pudlow.

They believe the underlining goal is to privatize education, with a complex system of for-profit education corporations.

In April the Florida Department of Education released a report showing charter school students perform better than the rest. Union members say the report is flawed because it doesn’t take into account that traditional schools service more low-income kids and students with learning disabilities.

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