Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush encouraged S.C. lawmakers and educators Friday to create a top-notch education system that uses technology to help more students; gives parents more choices on how and where their children are educated; and expects more of teachers and schools.
“Don’t be so tied to convention. Don’t be so tied to being politically correct,” Bush told a crowd of about 300 at the Empower S.C. Education Reform summit, organized by U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, a Greenville Republican.
Fellow Republicans, Gov. Nikki Haley and state Superintendent of Education Mick Zais, also attended the event. Participants discussed the ways that technology can increase student achievement, why more educational choices, including charter and magnet schools, benefit families and Florida’s educational successes during Bush’s tenure.
Bush is the son of one former U.S. president, George H.W. Bush, and the brother of another, George W. Bush. The former two-term Florida governor, a consultant and Wall Street adviser who also heads a foundation that touts choices in education, often is mentioned as a potential future GOP candidate for president.
DeMint said he organized the event to help build consensus among educators, lawmakers and business people who shape education policy.
“This is a good way to create a critical mass of good ideas,” said DeMint, adding he hopes to move South Carolina into a coalition of states working to improve education.
The GOP-controlled General Assembly is moving forward on some of the ideas discussed Friday.
The House has passed a bill to offer tax deductions to parents who home-school their students or send them to private schools. The controversial bill, which some bitterly oppose, now is before the state Senate.
The Senate gave key approval Thursday to a bill to allow the state’s 18,000 home-schooled students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities at their local, public school. The House will take up the bill soon.
A measure intended to protect teachers from frivolous lawsuits while providing discipline in the classroom has passed the Senate and is pending before a House committee.
Participants said Friday’s event was worthwhile but noted Florida spends more money than South Carolina on education, including paying bonuses to high school teachers whose students pass Advanced Placement exams and putting extra money in schools where students dramatically improve on the state’s standardized test.
“South Carolina is already doing a lot of the things discussed today,” said Betsy Carpentier, an education consultant and former employee of the state Education Department. “What we don’t have is the money.”