Jeb Bush: Gov. Lee’s Proposal Would Provide Options to Students Who Need Them ost
Jeb Bush served as the 43rd governor of Florida and is the founder and chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd). He published the following op-ed in the Tennessean:
Few would argue that there is a greater tool to achieve upward mobility in life than a great education. Fortunately, former Gov. Bill Haslam put Tennessee on the track to greater student success through the ambitious suite of reforms he pursued during his two terms. But too many of our most vulnerable students in Tennessee, and around the country, are still being left behind.
This year, Tennessee lawmakers have the chance to create even greater opportunities for their state as they consider Gov. Bill Lee’s bold and innovative proposal to provide more options for low-income students and families through the creation of an education savings account.
All parents want access to a school that is safe, academically challenging and capable of providing the knowledge and skills their children need to succeed beyond graduation. For parents with substantial financial means, the task is straightforward: pay the premium for a house in a school zone of their choice or pay for private education or individual tutoring. Unfortunately, millions of low-income children in the United States do not have these same opportunities, merely because their families do not have the resources to afford an alternative.
The stakes couldn’t be higher.
We now have evidence that a child’s ZIP code may be as big a barrier to social mobility as his or her family’s income. Using data from more than 20 million people, a team of researchers led by Harvard University economist Raj Chetty found that a child in a low-income neighborhood may earn as little as one-fourth over his or her lifetime compared to a child simply raised in another part of town.
For instance, while the average low-income child in one Memphis neighborhood could expect to earn just $18,000 in average annual salary as an adult, that same child in a neighborhood less than two miles away could expect to earn at least $44,000 per year.
Breaking down economic barriers is a proven way to help students, which we have witnessed through two decades of bold education reform in Florida.
During my eight years as governor of Florida, we expanded educational options in all forms: public schools, private school choice, charter schools, magnet schools, homeschooling and more.
One of those options is the Florida Tax-Credit Scholarship program, the largest of its kind in the nation. The program provides more than 100,000 low-income students with a scholarship to attend a private school of their choice.
The demographics of participating students are far from advantaged. The average household income in the program is just $25,755, two-thirds of program participants are black or Hispanic, and those who enter the program tend to be among the lowest-performing students in their prior school before enrolling. Despite the challenging demographics, students in the program have shown steady academic progress compared to their peers across the country, including achieving higher rates of college admission and degree attainment.
This commitment to creating educational options for families in Florida has led to long-term, measurable improvements in the state’s education system, producing students who are better prepared for success in the classroom and in careers.
Twenty years ago, only half of Florida public school students graduated on time. Today, Florida’s graduation rate has increased by more than 30 percentage points and rates have increased even faster for black and Hispanic students.
The results continue to improve. In fact, Florida was the only state to post gains in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and writing on the latest Nation’s Report Card, a national assessment that compares students from each state.
These impressive gains have been driven by our constantly-improving public schools, where the vast majority of children remain, which have been positively affected by competition. In fact, research has demonstrated that public school students living in areas with more private school options saw their test scores increase at higher rates than similar schools in areas with fewer or no educational options.
Most parents will choose their assigned public school as the best fit for their child – and that’s something that Tennesseans should be proud of. But a system that works for “most” should not be the goal. The goal should be a system that produces options that fit family needs, not a system that tries to fit families into schools.
Lee is working to give every student in Tennessee – no matter his or her circumstances – the opportunity to succeed in school and life, and members of the Tennessee General Assembly should embrace his proposal.