Leading off the dog and pony show before the Senate Education Committee this morning, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suggested that poverty was just an “excuse” for failures in the public schools. Bush, of course, doesn’t exactly have a clear comprehension of poverty, but it is not an excuse for tens of thousands of Texas schoolchildren. It is a reality, and it does interfere with a child’s education. When families are struggling to survive, the first priority usually isn’t a kid’s homework or, for many families, even keeping a kid in school.
More than half of the children in Texas public schools are “economically disadvantaged.” That means they are poor. And many of them are still struggling to learn English. Yet, Bush’s answer to their educational needs is to keep cramming standardized tests down their throats, take tax dollars away from their neighborhood public schools and give the public money to private school owners in the form of student vouchers or scholarships.
That was Bush’s approach in Florida while he was governor, and now he is traveling around the country claiming it worked. In reality, it may have produced some immediate improvements, but over the long haul it hasn’t turned around Florida’s educational system. The state’s high school graduation rate is nothing to brag about, large numbers of graduates still need remedial help in math and reading, and state- commissioned studies have found no evidence that low-income students who receive vouchers to attend private school do any better at reading or math than Florida kids in public schools.
And, there are other problems. If you want to read more, click on the link at the end of this post for a good news article about the illusion-versus-reality of Bush’s education legacy.
Bush, indeed, may want to improve public education. But he is not the successful education “reformer” he claims to be. Instead, he is a promoter of school privatization. His misnamed Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and its affiliate, Chiefs for Change, are conduits for letting their corporate donors – a who’s who of education profiteers – connect with and privately influence state policymakers on expanded testing, expanded online learning, private school vouchers and other privatization raids on public tax dollars.
The foundation has had some success – tapping into untold millions of education tax dollars — in several other states, and now it is trying to promote privatization efforts in Texas.
Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick was all too willing to feature Bush as a star witness to promote Patrick’s voucher and charter expansion goals. Instead of wasting time on such unproven schemes, though, Patrick and his colleagues in the legislative majority should be restoring the $5.4 billion they cut from public school funding two years ago. Because of those cuts, per-student spending in Texas has plunged by $1,062 since the 2010-11 school year, according to National Education Association rankings.
Texas now is 49th – near the bottom of the barrel – in per-student spending among the states and the District of Columbia. Only Arizona and Nevada spend less. Thousands of Texas students have been forced into overcrowded classrooms, dimming their learning opportunities. And, many of those students are poverty-stricken.
Bush said “reforms,” such as accountability testing, need to be imposed on public schools to assure that students can become upwardly mobile, become financially more secure than their parents.
Public schools were making students upwardly mobile long before the privateers came along. But millions of Texans, and not just poor people, have seen their family incomes become frozen or recede in recent years, and that is not the fault of the public schools. That is the fault of federal regulatory and economic policies that have favored the wealthiest 1 percent of the country’s residents, while squeezing the middle class and everyone else. Jeb should have given the upwardly mobile lecture to his brother, George W., while W. was still in the White House.