MIDLAND Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush stressed the importance of education to a crowd of about 150 community and business leaders, elected officials and educators during a dinner Wednesday in Midland.
Bush, who was born in Midland, has a commitment to education in his DNA. From his mother, the late former First Lady Barbara Bush, the love of reading was instilled in him and in the country during her husband, George H.W. Bush’s presidency.
Jeb Bush now lives in Miami and heads the Excellence in Education foundation, which is a nonprofit working to transform education and to create opportunity and lifelong success for children.
The Permian Strategic Partnership sponsored the event and former Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, also PSP’s chief, led the fireside chat with Bush.
He championed literacy telling the crowd that it is critical children know how to read by the end of third grade and said as a country “we are way behind…it is the great social challenge of our time.”
He said people must be able to think critically and understand math and reading. He said parents should be marching in the streets about the state of education in this country while also stressing the many strides made across the country.
“So many are not getting a good education and no one is marching in the streets about this. Typically those being left behind are low income…the drain on our society is tragic beyond belief. It happens quickly and we excuse it away but we shouldn’t.”
He added a purposeful life for all should be our mission as a country but that policy should be implemented at the state and local level.
He praised the many leaders in oil and gas industry in attendance for both their work in the industry and for their philanthropic efforts to help education in the area.
He spoke of the need for partnerships with business and the brilliance of career and technical programs in the schools. He advocated for apprenticeships for high schoolers and for local districts to partner with local business to tailor instruction for jobs that are actually available locally.
During Bush’s time as governor of Florida he heightened standards with A-F grades for schools and was a proponent of school vouchers and charter schools. He praised IDEA schools, which have campuses in both Odessa and Midland.
On vouchers he said competition makes all schools better including public schools.
He said the United States spends more on each student than any other country but many leave school without job skills or being college ready.
He said he likes a quote from his older brother, former President George W. Bush:
“The soft bigotry of low expectations…don’t tell me that if someone is born in poverty that their life circumstances make it impossible for them to work…we have a ton living in poverty and want to toss them aside? God has given every child the ability to learn.”
He said it is the responsibility of parents, educators and society to organize themselves to make it happen.
“A purposeful life should be our mission as a country and it should be a national priority implemented at the state and local level.”
Bush agreed and added he would put “my money on parents” when it comes to firing them up about the educational needs of their children and again stressed competition makes all schools better.
“Where there is robust competition and innovation everyone does better as long as you also have robust accountability…traditional schools get better the more choices parents have. It is irrefutable.”
Bush also touted the book “The Coddling of the American Mind.”
He said the book offers insights about how children are being set up to fail. He also said a new movement to ban social media during school time is coming. “The lack of free play, the inability to solve disputes…we are creating a generation of weaklings,” he said.
During a question and answer session led by the PSP’s Tracee Bentley, Bush said intervention for struggling students needs to start far earlier than third grade. “Parents in pre-k and kindergarten need to be aware already that their child is struggling.”
He said when Florida implemented no social promotion in third grade during his governorship that 13 percent of children were held back that first year. “I know first hand about parents getting pissed off…what I learned was that they were not informed and not given the tools to do it.”
He said Florida continues to lead in education issues and now low income parents are given books.
“There are no excuses for kids not being able to read by the end of third grade…don’t blame it on social circumstances. They will live fulfilled lives if we reach them.”
Learn about Jeb Bush’s foundation here.