President Obama took the stage at a Miami high school on Friday, after an unlikely politician introduced him — former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
Paired up at the administration’s suggestion, Obama and Bush urged school reform and investment in education, central themes in Obama’s budget proposal and a platform that Bush pushed as governor and his brother pushed as president.
“Mr. President, as you have said, educational achievement is not a Republican or Democrat issue,” Bush said in his introduction. “It is an issue of national priority.”
Obama has emphasized teacher accountability, improved standardized testing, and rewards for schools and teachers based on student achievement and innovation — ideas that haven’t always found support among teachers unions.
Yet he made a special point of heaping praise on teachers, whose jobs are in the spotlight now as union supporters battle the Wisconsin governor’s budget plan to cut bargaining rights for public employees.
He touted the success of Miami Central Senior High School, which faced a shutdown in 2005 but has mounted a turnaround backed by about $800,000 in federal funding and a new staff and principal.
“Graduation rates were at 36 percent. Now they are at 63 percent. And I expect them to be at 100 percent,” Obama said, leaning into the microphone for emphasis.
The stimulus package proved to be a windfall for schools around the country, pumping in billions for infrastructure and staving off teacher layoffs. And Obama’s 2012 budget proposal calls for an 11 percent increase in education spending.
The president linked Friday’s national unemployment report --192,000 were created last month, and the jobless rate dipped to 8.9 percent — to spending on education.
“If we want more good news on the jobs front, then we gotta make more investments in education. As a nation, making these investments in education and innovation and infrastructure, all of them are essential,” he said. “What makes it tough is that we are in a difficult fiscal situation as well. “
The Miami visit comes as Obama seeks bipartisan agreement for spending on education and for revamping No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s signature domestic effort. Obama emphasized that cuts in spending are necessary, but not at the expense of education.
For Jeb Bush, who left office in 2006, standing next to the president underscores his role as one of the leaders of his party. It also stokes the “draft Bush for 2012” chatter among some Republicans.
The joint public appearance also suggests a thaw in Obama’s relationship with the Bush family. Last month, Obama honored President George H. W. Bush with the Medal of Freedom. And Obama has dropped his rhetoric that blamed the policies and decisions of George W. Bush for the recession. In Miami, he also singled out another Bush brother.
“Jeb is best known as the brother of Marvin Bush,” he said, as Jeb Bush laughed. “Apparently the rest of the family also did some work in Washington back in the day.”
Friday evening, Obama will attend a fund-raiser for the DCCC and Sen. Ben Nelson, and will bring in $1 million for 2012 campaign efforts.