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.

Envisioning Florida’s Future

By: Phil Handy, member of ExcelinEd’s Board of Directors and former Chairman of the Florida State Board of Education

Around the time the A+ Plan for Education came into being, Florida saw some big changes in state government. Responding to a Constitution Revision Commission proposal, voters approved eliminating three elected seats from the state Cabinet along with creating an appointed, seven-member Board of Education.

From my perspective, that change was long overdue. Generations of Floridians had been educated in a system that, frankly, was not prioritized by state leaders. It wasn’t just about dollars, which were abysmally low. Graduation rates were among the lowest in the nation. Elementary reading and math scores were extremely poor. Academic expectations weren’t nearly high enough. And year after year, schools were failing their students and their communities.

Bold legislation, the A+ Plan for Education, changed all that. Coupled with expanded authority over the state’s education system, Governor Jeb Bush saw a unique opportunity to bring about transformational change to our state.

I remember those days well. I watched Jeb’s eye firmly focused on raising academic standards, creating accountability around school performance and offering families options for their children’s education. Those ideas were foundational to the A+ Plan. Jeb was a true visionary, and I was fortunate to help implement his vision.

It wasn’t easy. The forces holding tight to the status quo—even though it was a horrible status quo—were determined and stubborn.

Yet in the end, it was important, successful and great work. The once-audacious ideas in the A+ Plan have endured the test of time and are now widely accepted benchmarks for strong education policy. It’s no surprise to me that states across the nation have watched the lasting impacts of Florida’s A+ Plan and are replicating those efforts. What a fitting 20-year anniversary gift to its author.

Phil Handy is a member of ExcelinEd’s Board of Directors. He served for six years as Chairman of the Florida State Board of Education.