Former Gov. Jeb Bush's first public appearance in Florida as a likely presidential candidate will be a return to familiar ground in more ways than one.
In addition to hosting a $1,000-a-person lunchtime fundraiser in the capital Tuesday, Bush will convene state leaders to discuss a favorite topic: education.
He is expected to address the school accountability and choice programs he launched more than 15 years ago, and look forward to the future of Florida’s public schools.
"Florida’s impressive gains in student achievement began 15 years ago with the A+ Plan for Education," said Patricia Levesque, the executive director of Bush’s non-profit Foundation for Florida's Future. "Annual testing, data-driven accountability and educational choices were a huge part of the transformational improvements that followed, supporting work in classrooms to keep students from falling through the cracks."
The summit, however, comes at a time when many of Bush's signature education policies have come under fire.
Parents have complained so loudly about testing that the legislature is working to scale back the number of exams. What's more, a voucher program for children from low-income families is facing a legal challenge from the statewide teachers union, PTA, school boards association and other groups.
Late Monday, teachers voiced concerns about Bush's policies in a telephone town hall hosted by the left-leaning non-profit Progress Florida.
Some plan to protest Tuesday's event.
"Jeb Bush calls himself the education governor but Florida public schools are a mess as a result of Jeb’s misguided policies," said Thomas James, a Miami-Dade teacher and member of the Florida Badass Teacher Association. "Not only has Florida dropped to No. 28 nationally in Education Weekly’s recent rankings, Florida public school students have become little more than 'test drones' being bombarded with an array of standardized high stakes tests which eat up as much as 45 school days per year."
The statewide teachers union will not be participating in the protest. But Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall called Bush’s summit "a Kabuki dance."
"He’s gathered all of the stakeholders to make sure nothing is dismantled of his legacy because that legacy will be his springboard for the presidency," McCall said. "The bottom line for us is that we’ve had 15 years of failed reform and the system is crumbling."
Bush announced in December that he was considering a presidential bid. He has launched a political action committee called Right to Rise to facilitate a possible campaign.
A poll last week had Bush leading among potential Republicans candidates in New Hampshire.