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[Reposting in case you missed this story last night, DR]
The Néw York Times tells the sad story of the life and death of Jeb Bush’s charter school. Bush now recalls his involvement in the school to demonstrate his prowess as an education reformer. But the actual experience of the school shows the perils of Bush’s free-market ideology.
In 1996, Jeb Bush co-founded Florida’s first charter school, called Liberty City Charter School, in an impoverished black neighborhood in Miami. His co-founder was head of the city’s Urban League. Two years earlier, he had narrowly lost the governor’s race. When asked what he would do for blacks if elected, he responded, “Probably nothing.” Looking ahead to the next election, he needed to “soften” his image. The founding of a charter school for poor black children was his vehicle.
After he was elected governor in 1998, Jeb Bush created a model of tough accountability, pre-dating his brother George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. Among other things, Jeb graded every school, A-F. His charter school won an A in 2006, and he was very proud.
However, the school sunk into financial trouble, and its grade plummeted to D. Bush’s second term as governor ended in 2007, and he did not do much to help the school as it struggled with debt. In 2008, it closed.
What did Jeb Bush learn from the failure of his model school? Not much. He certainly didn’t learn about the limits of the free market in education.
Nonetheless, the now defunct school still remains valuable to Presidential candidate Jeb Bush.
Times’ reporter Jason Horowitz writes:
“But with Mr. Bush all but certain to be running for office again, this time for the White House, the school he once championed is again useful. As he tries to sell himself to the conservative Republicans wary of his support for the testing standards they consider emblematic of government overreach, he can speak with authority on charter schools, funded largely by taxpayers but run by private companies, as a free-market antidote to liberal teachers’ unions and low performance.
“And his firsthand experience in the education of underprivileged urban grade-schoolers lends him credibility in a party that has suddenly seized upon the gap between the rich and poor as politically promising terrain. In his first speech as a likely presidential candidate in Detroit last month, Mr. Bush credited Liberty City Charter School with helping “change education in Florida”
“But Mr. Bush’s uplifting story of achievement and reform avoided mentioning the school by name or its unhappy ending. For all his early and vital involvement during his 1998 campaign for governor, and for all the help he offered from afar in the governor’s office, Mr. Bush’s commitment to his school project was not as enduring as some students and teachers might have hoped.”
Others might view Liberty City Charter School as a symbol not of “achievement and reform,” but of the impermanence and empty promises of charter schools.