But his Jeb Bush problem may be his most telling problem of all.
In The New Yorker, Alec MacGillis unravels Jeb’s adventures in education “reform,” which has increasingly become a euphemism for the right-wing’s conjoined agendas of siphoning taxpayer money into corporate pockets, undermining the effectiveness of government and strangling teachers unions — one of the last bastions that prevent complete conservative control over state and local governments.
As governor of Florida, Bush inherited a state with one of the nation’s lowest high school graduation rates. He advocated “free-market competition, with charters and private-school vouchers” and left the state with a rate that was slightly higher, yet still among the nation’s worst.
Washington Monthly‘s Ed Kilgore notes, “Bush’s famous advocacy of charter schools in Florida appears to have involved (a) massive opportunities for for-profit companies to run charters, usually indirectly via contracts with non-profits; and (b) very light public oversight and accountability.”
There’s no evidence that charter schools outperform community schools, even on standardized tests, which do little more than note how much poverty students have to endure. And the little blips of success that do show up are generally the result of charters being able to weed out students community schools can’t.
The foundational claim of these experiments in corporatism is that “We spend plenty of money! Spending more money won’t fix the problem!” turns out to be false.
“More recent research, however, has found that when schools have more money, they are able to give their students a better education,” the Washington Post‘s Max Ehrenfreund writes. “A new study on those who went to school during the school-finance cases a few decades ago found that those who attended districts that were affected by the rulings were more likely to stay in school through high school and college and are making more money today.”
(The right’s other big claim “It’s too hard to fire teachers!” is overstated as well. Tens of thousands of teachers — often the best, most experienced educators — were laid off during the Great Recession. And in my experience of teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District for six years, bad teachers who weren’t trying to get better rarely lasted more than one school year, if that.)
But the right-wing groups like the Heritage Foundation that supported Bush’s efforts don’t care seem to care if students succeed, as long as government and unions are diminished in the never-ending pursuit of lower taxes on the rich.
Buth carried on his passion for dismantling public institutions after he left office through his Foundation. Conservatives have actually moved to his right and despise his Common Core reforms, which were embraced by the Obama Administration. But they’ve got to admire his ability to make a buck.
It was through “reform” that Bush met education profiteer Randy Best who brought him in an investor and advisor in Academic Partnerships, a for-profit college business. The former governor and member of an actual dynasty was finally profiting directly off students, selling them debt in an era of a multi-faceted student loan crisis.
No wonder Bush opposed President Obama’s recent effort to rein in the profiteering of these schools, which receive 86 percent of the their income directly from taxpayers. For-profits often offer degrees comparable to what you’d receive at a community college but can cost tens of thousands of dollars more than what you’d pay at a public school.
I can’t find any response from Bush on the president’s new plan to offer tuition-free community college to anyone who wants it.
But let me guess: he’s against it.
The urge to improve our schools for those who need it most is universal. Schools and teachers need proper accountability — but they also need more money.
Let Jeb Bush be a reminder that these efforts to “reform” our schools are usually thinly veiled plots to undermine the institutions that built our middle class.