Jeb Bush talks bipartisanship in ed reform, predicts parent trigger passage in Florida

Kicking off his foundation’s fifth annual national education summit, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush stressed the usual components of his reform agenda today but also accented an increasingly big talking point: bipartisanship.

Bush said “new coalitions on the left and right” are moving to revamp teacher evaluation and compensation systems and concluded his 30-minute remarks with a lengthy homage to the leadership skills of former Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. He also noted the bipartisan backing of so-called “parent trigger” legislation, which he predicted would pass the Florida Legislature next year after failing on a dramatic 20-20 tie in the Senate last spring.

“This is one of those great places where the center, left, right coalitions of this world need to work together. And that’s exactly what’s happened,” Bush said, singling out Parent Revolution, the left-wing group that has led the charge nationally for the trigger.

Referring to his own Foundation for Excellence in Education, which organized this week’s conference, Bush continued, “We’re supposed to be center-right, I guess,” but “we will work with everybody to be able to empower parents who right now feel hopeless about whether or not they have any say about their children’s future.”

The summit has grown in both stature and bipartisanship, and this year’s event includes nearly 800 attendees from 46 states. John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Clinton, is today’s keynote speaker. Arne Duncan, President Obama’s education secretary, will address the group tomorrow.

Bush framed his remarks about education reform and expanded school choice with concerns about declining social mobility.

“In American today, one of the most socially mobile countries in the world a generation ago, 43 percent of people born into poverty will stay into poverty. Four percent of people born into poverty will make it to the top quintile of income in our country,” he said. “Where is the outrage? Where’s the shame of this? This is not the America that we love. This is a dramatically changed America.”

Bush also offered a strong defense of Common Core academic standards, which has been divisive in some ed reform camps. Some pundits blamed the defeat of Indiana state superintendent Tony Bennett at the polls this month on his support for Common Core.

“These are standards developed by the states … this is not top-down-driven kind of stuff,” Bush said. “When people tell you that’s the case, it’s not true.”

“The federal government jumped into the state’s bandwagon, not the other way around.”

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at


Governor Bush is right about most of these issues, including our need for bipartisan cooperation and the Parent Trigger. Other, newer revisions to his “Florida formula”, such as his support of for-profit online charter schools, are ones we should be more cautious about. But I don’t know anyone who has all the answers, and we need to build alliances to help students wherever we can find reasonable people of good will. A prime issue right now is to produce Common Core examinations which are superior to the state exams available now, since teaching to the latter is (in general) harming students; and I have several objections to appraising teacher performance by student test scores, which I have detailed in a couple of recent posts on my blog, Founding Principles ( Of course I’m not against appraising teachers’ contributions to student achievement when the tests are of high quality and when student performance on them is directly beneficial to their own futures, as for instance in baccalaureate exams at the end of secondary school.

Someone please explain–

If parent trigger passes and a school is turned over to the parents, who then vote to turn it over to a for-profit charter, what happens if that school fails? What guarantee is there that parents will continue to have a voice in the school management? From everything I’ve read, there are no provisions for either of those things. Even Gloria Romero, who is responsible for this bill passing in California, could only say, “the way I envision it…” on yesterday’s panel at the summit in Washington.

Once the trigger is pulled, the school is lost to the public, the neighborhood, and the taxpayers. The parent trigger seems to be a poorly-thought out gimmick that could have multiple unintended consequences.

A charter school that fails has its charter revoked (either at the end of its term or, if necessary, sooner), and it returns to its previous status.

The parent voice in the school’s management (or governance, the more appropriate home for that voice) can be enshrined (or not) in the school’s charter. Interested parents are advised to read the governance and management section of any charter before they sign anything to back it.

Are those provisions in the trigger bill as presented to the Florida legislature?

Brandt Robinson

The parent trigger is and always will be a trojan horse that distracts from more obvious questions. It uses a defense of the impoverished to justify profiteering of our already underfunded public school system. If Jeb Bush and his legacy of extreme Republican legislators had a history over the past decade+ of adequately funding public schools; if they had a history of reaching out and seeking input from professional educators like myself; if they had a history of validating or even praising public school teachers, then the notion of a parent trigger – or any other reform they are committed to – would be more credible. But the record is clear and efforts to circumvent public schools in a perverse effort to reform them simply will not fly.

Tom La Porta

With such authority as parent trigger a slight majority of parents in one part of a school district could gain political control to privatize a public function to be paid for by citizens at large in another part of the district who are left without any voice in the matter. At least with the current system of elected school boards who decide on charters all voters with a stake in a school district have a voice. For a “conservative” approach to school reform, this is a very undemocratic and top down way to handle reform.

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