Eye on Education

Why Jeb Bush Cares About Ohio Schools

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks at a Washington, D.C. conference earlier this year.

Mary F. Calvert / Landov

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks at a Washington, D.C. conference earlier this year.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush spent today in meetings with Ohio Republican leaders discussing education policy.

Yup, the guy who’s on a shortlist for the 2016 presidential election spent four hours in off-the-record meetings in Columbus talking about Ohio’s schools. (And then he went to a GOP fundraiser. Minimum ticket price: $1,000.)

The intent of the education meetings was to have “an open and honest dialogue with leaders across the state,” said Leanne Goodman, a spokesperson for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an education advocacy group founded by Bush.

Since Bush left office in Florida, the former governor and the foundation he started have been pushing a national education reform agenda with six main points, as our colleagues at StateImpact Florida report:

  • Grading schools on a simple A through F scale based on student standardized test scores.
  • High-stakes testing.
  • Requiring students to meet grade standards before promotion to a higher grade.
  • Paying teachers based on student performance.
  • New methods to credential teachers.
  • Adding charter schools, private school vouchers (since struck down by a court) and online schools to offer parents more choices.

If those policies sound familiar, it’s because Ohio GOP leadership has successfully pursued similar policies. In fact, officials from Bush’s foundation have traveled to Ohio several times in the past couple years to lobby for those policies.

The Ohio Department of Education unveiled a new A-F school report card system this year. Last year, Ohio lawmakers approved the third grade reading guarantee, which basically requires students to past the state’s third grade reading test to be promoted to fourth grade.

State law now requires teachers’ job evaluations to be based in part on their students’ performance–and policymakers have encouraged districts to tie teacher pay to their performance. Laws passed during the past two years have made it easier for people who didn’t graduate from colleges of education to become teachers.

And the legislature has lifted limits on online charter schools; and repeatedly expanded Ohio’s private-school voucher programs.

Today, Bush met with Republican House of Representative leaders including Speaker Bill Batchelder, Education Committee Chair Gerald Stebelton and Education Committee Vice Chair Andrew Brenner.

He met with Senate President Keith Faber and members of the Senate Republican caucus.

And he met with State Superintendent Richard Ross and senior Department of Education staff.

Not on the meeting list: Teachers, school district staff or school employee unions.

The meetings focused on Ohio’s new school report cards and on the third grade reading requirement, Goodman said. Ohio’s new $250 million school grant program — called the “Straight A Fund” — also came up.

In the meetings, Bush praised legislators and Ohio Department of Education staff for their recent work, Goodman said. And he told them that making sure Ohio’s new policies were implemented correctly was as important as getting the laws passed,

“Successful reform does not end at adoption—seamless implementation is an imperative step for success.” Bush wrote in an email sent today by his foundation.

Whether or not Bush’s education agenda will be a successful selling point for voters in 2016, should he decide to run, is an open question.

Recently one of Bush’s “signature” policies, A-F school report cards, faced significant public questions this year after last-minute changes to a new A-F school grading system in Indiana were revealed.

Bush supports the use of the Common Core, a new nationwide set of standards for what students should know and be able to do in English and math. The standards now face criticism in Ohio and other states from a politically diverse group of opponents.

And besides, education reform isn’t necessarily a sure-fire way to win with voters, StateImpact Florida explains:

Education is a complicated issue for presidential politics. Unlike immigration, taxes, or spending, there is no clean split between Republican and Democrats on many education issues.

Voters also tend to feel more strongly about other issues.




  • lacrossemom14

    Politics and voting polls aside, education is a important issue that needs to be carefully monitored. Setting high goals and standards the encourage performance are what more states need. I’m very excited to see the improvements Kasich’s third grade guarantee results in. Soon everyone will see how Ohio is supporting its kids.

    • duckmonkeyman

      You have to be joking. Bush, Kasich, and the Koch driven agendas are about making money – not improving schools. To them, teachers are the enemy to be silenced and students are data points. Standardized tests tell you nothing about learning and high standards mean nothing if the funding is absent. Remember it was Kasich who vowed to “break the backs” of teachers and the Republicans who cut nearly $2 billion from schools. It will take decades to repair the damage these “reformers” have done.

      • Yeah, right

        Amen. Kasich made me a former Repunblican.

    • Yeah, right

      Kasich’s charter school buddy is a big funding source for his campaign. And then there’s “Charter School Day” in public education circles. It’s where the head count happens in October and the state pays, then March, paid again then the charter folds immediately and the students are back in public schools in days without the funding.
      Bottom line is schools need help with parenting. Walk into a school and you can tell what the results will be by just observing the parents. There is little schools can do to change that.

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