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Mackinac Conference: Jeb Bush makes strong case for ed reform

Detroit News photo

Detroit News photo

Mackinac Island - Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush kicked off the Detroit Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference Wednesday afternoon, making a convincing plug for education reform.

He said America has always been a land of entrepreneurs and dreams (even in cities that have seen better days  like Detroit), but as of late, our schools are letting too many kids down –leaving them out of the opportunity that has drawn people to the this country for years.

Bush laid out plenty of sobering statistics to the packed room at the Grand Hotel, including how half of  African American and Hispanic children are functionally illiterate by the time they reach fourth grade.

If we want individuals to continue taking risks and making investments, “that demands equal access to quality education,” Bush says.

Sadly, the American education system isn’t delivering.

Bush, who has championed education reform since he left office, points to the marked progress his state of Florida has made in the last decade–thanks in part to his efforts as governor. Through reforms that  hold schools and teachers more accountable, students are now performing significantly better on national standardized tests– including minority children who usually score below their white peers nationally.

That’s true progress and a testament to the power of reforms at the state level. Michigan has made strides the past few years in education reform, and Bush credited the strong leadership of Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican leaders in the Legislature like Sen. Phil Pavlov, chair of the Senate Education Committee, for much of this improvement.

Since 2011, Michigan has expanded school choice, made changes that hold teachers more accountable and has reformed the state teacher pension system to rein in costs. It will take time to reap the rewards of these changes, but they place the state on a better trajectory.

As Bush says, the more children schools fail, the more adults that will end up on welfare and in prison. “Education done right is the only government program capable of curing poverty,” he says.

Bush applauded Michigan’s effort to turn around failing schools–such as the Education Achievement Authority (the statewide reform district for the worst-performing schools). He also supports the expansion of charter schools across the state.

“You move the needle if you shake the model,” he says.