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: Secretary Margaret Spellings, Former U.S. Secretary of Education & President and CEO of Texas 2036
For those of us working in education reform, we often have to dive deep into the data to show what works. Incremental progress is the name of the game.
Every time a graduation rate ticks up, every time an achievement gap narrows even a little – it represents hundreds or even thousands of students and families with a brighter future ahead of them. We get used to celebrating the little things.
But in Florida in 1999, incremental progress was thrown out the window for big, systemic change, and it shows. You don’t have to mine the data to show the remarkable success story behind Florida’s A+ Plan. Whatever variable you look at, Florida’s educational renaissance has been extraordinary.
Twenty years later, the movement that transformed Florida from back of the pack to national leader still holds lessons about what interventions lead to lasting student success. In two areas that are particularly important to me – teacher preparation and data-driven accountability systems – Florida has led the way.
But the most important lesson might be political.
Holding institutions accountable is hard. It’s even harder when those institutions are responsible for something as important as a student’s education. There is a powerful group that can come together to resist meaningful accountability—we’ve seen that happen nationally and in many, many other states.
But the coalition that Governor Jeb Bush built to pass and implement the A+ Plan managed to overcome those obstacles. Through leadership, a strong vision and good old-fashioned coalition building, he reminded us that successful education reform is possible, and when done right, is transformational.
In my home state of Texas, we wrote the playbook on education reform. But we didn’t sustain it over time, and we saw states like Florida surge ahead because political leadership held steady on big goals and big reforms.
But recently Texas is reinvesting, with a $6.5 billion investment over two years for public schools that targets resources to high-need districts. Further, the state is enacting significant reforms in the K-12 space, like mandatory academic goal setting for districts and full-day pre-K for all eligible 4-year-olds.
Success in education requires sustained political leadership. No state can rest on its laurels, because education reform isn’t a box that can be checked by one political leader and considered accomplished by those who follow.
Florida’s A+ Plan was a success that helped galvanize national action. I look forward to seeing over the coming years what the Sunshine State’s next act will be, as it builds on its results to help students be fully prepared for their own success.