The Golden Thread That Runs Through Jeb Bush’s Education Philosophy

In the past I’ve generally been of the view that Republican “education reformers” can be divided into two main camps: those who are dangerously loose and easy on public subsidies for private schools, but do seem to still be interested in improving public schools through accountability measures; and those who back any “reform” that would undermine “government schools” and really favor total privatization of education. Jeb Bush seemed to me to be squarely in the former camp, particularly given the political heat he’s been willing to take for supporting de facto national education standards via the Common Core initiative.

That assumption changed after reading Alec MacGillis’ long piece at the New Yorker on Bush’s education record during and after his tenure as governor of Florida. To an extent I had not appreciated, 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. And more to the point, the self-same private-sector education industry with whom Jeb associated himself as governor and afterwards has an enormous financial stake in the testing and curriculum regime that Common Core is introducing. MacGillis also spend some time documenting Bush’s strong interest in “virtual learning,” which again tends to offer for-profit enterprises access to public money, while pushing a kind of instruction naturally attractive to people hostile to teachers’ union and/or to “government schools” (e.g., homeschoolers).

To put it another way, public money for private educational entities may be the golden thread that runs through Jeb Bush’s educational philosophy, whether or not it ostensibly involves public or private schools. That should be kept in mind by education reform advocates–including and perhaps especially those who have embraced charter public schools–who tend to view Bush as wildly preferable to those Republican would-be presidents who are using hostility to Common Core to abandon public education altogether.

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.