How Bush Got Out of Step With the Right on Education

I was looking at one of those straws in the wind today, a Heritage Foundation Daily Signal piece by Genevieve Wood on why conservatives no longer like Jeb Bush, the guy who was on Heritage’s board from 1995-1997. And there was this brief passage on education policy:

In years past, he was often considered the most conservative member of the Bush family involved in politics. But he has gone from being a champion of school choice as the governor of Florida to a vocal supporter of nationalizing education standards via Common Core.

Now so far as I can tell, Bush has not abandoned his support for “school choice” one bit. So what is it that makes “school choice” inconsistent with Common Core?

It mostly has to do with how you view private school vouchers. Just like his older brother, Jebbie promoted vouchers as a sort of emergency outlet for students in bad public schools, and as a distant threat to the “school monopoly” and to teachers unions. But he didn’t profess to any desire to get rid of public schools altogether.

That, however, is very much the way the wind is blowing right now–in the direction of regarding public schools as–to use the term Heritage president Jim DeMint helped popularize–“government schools” that are inherently illegitimate. Meanwhile, extensive voucher programs like Bobby Jindal’s in Louisiana are rationalized as shifting accountability for educational results from public authorities or even from voters to parents, who “know best” (thanks in many cases to their pastors, who steer their kids to the Academy of the Fiery Judgement for some old fashioned learnin’). In that kind of world, who needs any standards, much less uniform national standards? And as I noted in a piece on this trend over two years ago, standards-based education reform is not consistent with the GOP’s recent advocacy of “religious freedom:”

[E]ven if a Republican Congress and White House (or states following their lead) were willing to partially abandon the parental-market-place principle and begin insisting on standards for curriculum and instruction, it would run smack into another ideological totem: The growing resistance of conservative religious institutions to any conditions for the use of public funds that might tread upon their “freedom,” however they choose to define it.

So Jebbie may be the best existing champion of conservative education policy circa 2002. But he’s really just not in step any more, and that’s just one of the ways in which he has stood still as his party moved relentlessly past him to the right.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.