Jeb Bush Regales Senators with Reform Ideas, Old-School Testing Enthusiasm


There was a time the name “Bush” rang through the Capitol hallways and echoed around the rotunda. Much has changed since then, but Wednesday morning a Bush was back in the Capitol, before an education committee in the Senate chamber.

Senate Education chair Dan Patrick (R-Houston) has been trying since at least last summer to get former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush before his committee. This morning, Patrick finally got the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s founder and chairman to share “national best practices in education reform.”

But between the guest of honor’s last name and his tremendous faith in high-stakes testing, visiting the Senate chamber this morning felt a lot less like reform than a trip back to 1999.

Bush explained the education reforms he backed in Florida, including charter school expansion, and an A-through-F system of school ratings, both of which Patrick has championed lately here.

Bush said Texas shouldn’t necessarily spend more on education, but should make sure the money is being spent according to our priorities. Texas might make sure it’s spending more on third grade reading, he suggested, to which Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) scoffed loudly.

“Hope I’m not saying something controversial,” Bush replied.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) pointed out Florida’s low graduation rate, and wondering why they’d persisted even after Bush’s reforms.

Bush said Florida’s tough graduation requirements contribute to the state’s low rates, but insisted the state has improved from 50th in the country to 47th.

Patricia Levesque, CEO of Bush’s foundation, detailed more ways Texas could follow Florida’s lead in school reform, including performance pay for teachers who work in a low-income neighborhoods, and eliminating a state cap on charters.

Bush emphasized the need for tough accountability, prompting groans from some senators. Levesque said Florida’s system prizes student progress, and gives extra weight to improvement among low-scoring students.

“If you raise the bar, people rise to meet the challenge,” Levesque said.

West recalled that George W. Bush had a similar approach as Texas governor—one that’s out of step with most Texas lawmakers’ ideas about testing today.

Bush dismissed that, though, saying it takes high stakes testing to order to get measurable results. “Human nature is what it is,” Bush said. “To have no consequence for kids, you’re going to have the same tragic results that we’ve had.”

There’s anti-testing sentiment in every state, Bush said, brushing off criticism of the stress students face under the testing regime.

“I would say life is stressful,” he said.