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Why Ohioans Might Care What Jeb Bush is Up To

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Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 11:00 AM

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, stands along with President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at an event in Florida earlier this year.

Our colleagues at StateImpact Florida report that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is shaping education policy in Ohio and nationwide, even though he no longer holds public office--and the public office he did hold was based some 900 miles from Ohio.

Bush founded the twin nonprofits the Foundation for Excellence in Education and Foundation for Florida's Future to push his slate of education policies nationwide, and to continue to advocate for them in Florida.

That agenda includes ending teacher tenure, giving families the "financial freedom" to attend the schools of their choice, requiring students to be on grade level to reach the next grade, and grading schools on an A-F scale.

Sound familiar? That's because many of those policies have popped up in Ohio.

Senate Bill 5 would have ended teacher tenure in Ohio, had it not been repealed last year by voters. Ohio lawmakers expanded voucher programs and charter schools last year and are now considering a new type of tax-credit scholarship that would subsidize private school tuition for students statewide. There's that third grade reading guarantee pending in the statehouse, and a new A-F school grading system too.

All of those things aren't happening in Ohio just because of Jeb Bush. Many are part of other policy agendas in Ohio and nationwide.

But Bush has traveled to Ohio to lobby for the third-grade reading guarantee, StateImpact Florida says. His lead education policy advisor has testified in Columbus in support of Florida-style policies. And pending legislation to create an Ohio tax-credit scholarship was modeled in part on Florida's program.

Bush told StateImpact Florida the policies he lobbies for are disruptive, but effective:

“The idea of reform is not to be harsh or to hurt people,” he added. “It is to assure that kids that are on one track that dooms them for failure for the rest of their life get a chance to be able to dream big dreams and have the capacity to fulfill them.”

But not everyone agrees on the effective part. For example, a group of Florida parents argue that  Bush deliberately created the impression that Florida schools are failing in order to promote private business interests. They told StateImpact Florida:

The goal is to reduce public funding for schools and increase the number of private companies operating schools and providing online classes, curriculum, books and other services.

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