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.
By: The Honorable Toni Jennings, Former Florida Lieutenant Governor, Senate President and member of the Foundation for Florida’s Future Board of Trustees
I have been blessed to watch my home state of Florida grow and prosper, truly becoming a desirable place where people from around the world come to live, learn and dream.
I have also been blessed to watch this beautiful transformation from many vantage points: as an elementary school teacher, a business owner and a public servant as state Senate President and Lt. Governor.
One of the key events in modern Florida history that I watched unfold was the A+ Plan for Education that Governor Jeb Bush presented to lawmakers 20 years ago. With Florida’s natural beauty and passionate business and legislative leaders, the growth of Florida seemed assured. However, I do not believe that our state would have enjoyed the unprecedented prosperity without this much needed overhaul of our education system.
Governor Bush’s first year in office was 1999. By that time, I had served in the Legislature for nearly 20 years, and I can attest that the political process is not like it seems on TV. Big ideas usually take time as compromises are crafted and nurtured, often over many legislative sessions.
But 1999 was different. I don’t think Tallahassee had seen anything like Governor Bush. He was a man who loved Florida, and he was in a hurry.
While he enjoyed having a Republican majority in the House and Senate, there is an inherent tension between the legislature and governor regardless of their political affiliation.
Yet Governor Bush quickly won approval in both chambers for the A+ Plan in a simple way straight out of our civics books. He identified a problem, proposed bold solutions and won support based on his passionate belief in the transformative power of sound policy ideas.
I am not sure that anyone else could have won over lawmakers so quickly.
Whether Floridians know it or not, the A+ Plan has affected virtually every person’s life in our state.
Families previously limited to whatever school their children were assigned now have choices that were once out of reach. Educators have incentives that recognize and reward their hard work. Students have more support in the early years and a wider variety of options when they get to high school. Businesses are more likely to relocate here or successfully expand with a more talented workforce. Colleges can focus their resources on core majors with less time remediating students.
But perhaps the most critical feature of the A+ Plus plan is that it didn’t limit the ways our K-12 schools can evolve and improve. Governor Bush recognized that success is never final and that the A+ Plan was more than a single piece of legislation. It provided a road map for contemporary and future leaders to use as we continue working to keep Florida the greatest state in our nation.