On June 21, 1999, Governor Jeb Bush signed Florida’s A+ Plan for Education into law, beginning a systemic transformation that serves as a national model for raising student achievement. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of this comprehensive strategy to improve public education, the Foundation for Florida’s Future is publishing a blog series featuring perspectives from the people that made it happen.
A+ Innovation for Schools
By: Gary Chartrand, executive chairman of Acosta Sales and Marketing, a former chairman of the Florida Board of Education, board chair of KIPP Jacksonville and a member of the Foundation for Florida’s Future’s board of trustees
The reality of politics is that most new laws provide only tweaks and adjustments. Rarely do we see an initiative that truly brings transformative change to the lives of everyday citizens.
Fortunately, Governor Jeb Bush and strong-willed policymakers joined in 1999 to think beyond mere adjustments to our education system. It’s safe to say that the A+ Plan for Education introduced in Florida 20 years ago has improved the lives for tens of thousands of Florida students, and even tens of thousands more across the nation.
When Governor Bush took office in 1999, Florida was among the nation’s lowest performing states in almost every education category.
The A+ plan didn’t tweak a broken education system. It overhauled it by giving lower-income families the chance to choose the right school for their child, simplifying accountability for schools with a simple A-F grade, and providing incentives to increase graduation and AP participation and pass rates.
The numbers don’t lie: in the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Florida was the only state to show improvements in 4th and 8th grade math and language arts.
To me, the success is more personal. I have been blessed with a successful career in Jacksonville. In 2007, I joined community leaders to bring the KIPP model to Jacksonville. KIPP schools had been successful in other parts of the nation, and, because of the A+ plan, it was possible to bring that success to Jacksonville.
KIPP Jacksonville Schools are a free, public schools and we accept all students. But the school has flexibility to help lower-income students. We drew largely from the north and westside communities of Jacksonville where traditional public schools have struggled.
With the flexibility allowed for charter schools, we have longer school days and years while providing free transportation and free breakfasts and lunches. We opened our first school in 2010 with 90 5th graders. Today, we have three programs for K-8th grade with more than 1,100 students.
Despite the challenges many of our students and families faced, their academic performance is competitive with peers in Jacksonville and statewide. In 2018, KIPP Jacksonville students performed better than their peers in the district and statewide with higher pass rates in 8th grade Algebra and Science. Not only that, the school is having more 8th graders take and pass Algebra than surrounding schools. This not only opens doors to selective high school magnet programs, but also allows them to check the box on a graduation requirement, opening the pathway to college admission.
Without the A+ Plan laying the groundwork for the innovation KIPP Jacksonville has brought to the city, those students might still be stuck in schools which simply weren’t working for them.
This is just one of hundreds of similar stories throughout the state of Florida of families and students—regardless of income—being empowered and liberated with more school options. And this is also just one way in which the A+ Plan has changed the lives of thousands of students in Florida.
As Governor Bush reminds us all of the time, success is never final. I look forward to work being done by ExcelinEd in Action nationally to support families and educators locally who will continue to fight for the right of every child to receive a quality education.
Gary Chartrand is executive chairman of Acosta Sales and Marketing, a former chairman of the Florida Board of Education, board chair of KIPP Jacksonville and a member of the Foundation for Florida’s Future’s board of trustees.