By: Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush’s A+ Plan for Education transformed the state’s schools to students’ benefit. Today, other states should look to Florida as a model.
See whether you can answer this basic math question: If a baseball game starts at noon and takes 3 ½ hours to play, what time will the game end?
Back in 1998, I traveled across our great state visiting 250 schools. One day I saw a high school senior struggle to answer that question as he was preparing to take the eighth-grade-level high school graduation test. And my heart broke. The easy answer — 3:30 p.m. — had eluded him.
How could we have so fundamentally failed this student? What was going on in his classroom, his school, his district that he was not the primary focus of our collective educational efforts?
Thus began my commitment to ending Florida’s failure in education.
It was exactly 20 years ago this week, on June 21, 1999, when I had the privilege of signing into law the A+ Plan for Education. That day saw a gathering of passionate, dedicated leaders and, more important, Florida parents and students, including Tracy James and her daughter, Khaliah, who urgently needed better education options to be successful.
In the two decades since, Florida has kept its focus on students by continually adopting bold and innovative education policies. Our state has embraced options and raised the bar with school accountability. We’ve placed a strong focus on early reading. We have rewarded, retained and recruited great teachers and schools. And we have leveraged technology to customize student learning.
Florida was ranked nearly at the bottom of almost every measure of student performance when we started this journey. And now, data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that Florida’s fourth-graders are fifth in the nation in reading achievement and seventh in math achievement. Our high school graduation rates and Advanced Placement exam scores are at unprecedented levels.
Florida’s families also enjoy access to the country’s broadest set of education options: virtual learning, public school choice, public charter schools and homeschooling as well as private school scholarships for low- and middle- income families, students with disabilities and bullied students. Any student in any community who needs help deserves what it takes to get a quality education and a chance for success in life.
Florida continues to deliver on that promise. Tracy James and her daughter, Khaliah, were one of the first families to use the Opportunity Scholarship in 1999. Looking back, Khaliah says that without the options school choice gave her, she would never have earned her associate degree nor be on track to earn her bachelor’s degree.
This is the transformative power of bold, student-centered policies.
Yet resting on these accomplishments is not the answer. Khaliah’s young son, Kyrian, is zoned for a D-rated school, but she currently can’t access the power of choice to get him the education he deserves. So the urgency to transform our education system remains. In fact, it’s even stronger, because the way we live and work has changed in ways that we could not have envisioned just two decades ago.
Artificial intelligence and automation are doing jobs once held by workers with a high school diploma. In another few years, jobs that today’s kindergartners will have probably don’t even exist yet! The future of work is changing fast, and Florida must be ready with policies and programs in place now to prepare students for their futures.
As a lifetime advocate for quality education, I am committed to working with today’s state and business leaders, teachers, parents and students to ensure that every family has the educational resources needed for their children.
Together, we are genuinely optimistic that in the next 20 years, education will be even more successful than the past 20 years. But like Khaliah and her family, we’re also impatient on behalf of the kids in classrooms today. Florida’s progress has been unprecedented, yet we have to keep pushing the envelope until each and every child gets the great education they deserve.
Jeb Bush served as the 43rd governor of Florida and is the founder and chairman of the Foundation for Florida’s Future.