The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What does Jeb Bush call public schools? (Hint: not ‘public schools’)

George and Jeb Bush (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Jeb Bush, as much as anybody, is the pioneer of  corporate-influenced school reform. When he was governor of Florida from 1999-2007, he introduced many of the changes in education policy that have become common across the country — including high-stakes standardized testing —  and since then he has been a leading voice in spreading his education gospel around the country.

Standardized test-based accountability, vouchers and online charter schools — these are some of the pillars of his reform, which he started right after first taking office and keeps pushing today. Though he hasn’t been governor for seven years, state officials just selected the American Institute of Research, which has close ties to one of Bush’s education foundations, to design the testing system that will replace the very troubled Florida Comprehensive Assessment System (FCAT), which Bush had introduced.

Bush, who is now considering whether to run for president in 2016, was proud of his reform efforts in 2003 when he gave his second inaugural speech, saying:

We have done nothing less than revolutionize education in Florida . We have built a school system that is accountable to our students and parents. It has not been painless, and the protectors of the status quo have resisted every step of the way. In the end, we have prevailed…but it is our students who are achieving victory.

Now, though, things don’t look so good to Bush. In recent years, he has taken to calling school systems something else.

In May 2013, he said the following in a keynote speech at the Mackinac Policy Conference in northern Michigan:

Our governance model includes over 13,000 government-run monopolies run by unions.

That, apparently, is the new mantra. School districts are not school districts. They are government-run monopolies run by unions. Lawmakers and school officials, apparently, are lackeys for the unions.

Last week,  during an interview in College Station, Tex., in which he made big news by calling illegal immigration “an act of love” by people trying to provide for their families, he also talked about education and, you can guess what he said.

“The system we have today with over 13,000 government-run, politicized, unionized monopolies is probably not the best governance model for 2014 and going forward.”

For Bush and many of today’s school reformers, who are pushing school “choice” via the spread of charter schools and especially vouchers, the goal is to wipe out unions and use public money for private entities to operate schools. One of the chief ironies in this is that some reformers aren’t insisting that the test-based accountability systems foisted on traditional public schools be used by schools that accept voucher students. The state of Florida is right now considering legislation that would expand its voucher program without insisting on the same accountability for voucher schools.

So much for accountability. So much for public education.