What Jeb Bush's Education Policy Means For You

PHOTO: Jeb Bush speaks during a campaign stop at Souhegan High School, Jan. 16, 2016, in Amherst, N.H.PlayJim Cole/AP Photo
WATCH Jeb Bush In A Minute

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, in an apparent homage to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has released his education policy, calling it “the civil rights issue of our time.”

The former Florida governor plans to reform the financing system by modifying current college savings accounts and allowing families and individuals, beginning with early education, to save tax-free for education. He would also streamline the money being spent on students, by allowing states to give funds directly to parents.

He would overhaul the federal loan program with an income-based financing system. Colleges and universities would have to have “skin in the game” and share the risk of failure with students; an insurance program of sorts.

A longtime advocate of voucher programs and school choice, Bush would also support charter school expansion and school choice.

So what does all that mean?

We ask a few experts to help us a break down Bush’s proposal and analyze what it would actually mean for students and families.

Meet the Experts:

Gerard Robinson: Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute, Former Commissioner of education for the state of Florida and Commonwealth of Virginia.

Catherine Brown: Vice President of Education Policy at American Progress, Former senior education policy advisor for House Committee on Education and Labor, 2008 domestic policy director, candidate Hillary Clinton.

Beth Akers: Fellow, Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families, Brown Center on Education Policy.

Question: Overall, what are your thoughts on the plan?

ROBINSON: The education plan Jeb released today contains initiatives that made him successful in Florida—strengthening traditional public schools, investing in reading programs, expanding charter and choice programs, and putting quality teachers in the classroom—and adds newer items like education savings accounts and higher education affordability into the mix.

BROWN: Overall, it's a shame he mixed some good ideas with some really bad ones…a lot of the details are very vague and lots of important questions not answered. From what I can discern, some of the proposals would be quite damaging to our public education system.

AKERS: As with any new program, the devil will be in the details, but this proposed reform is built on solid principles. Education is a sound investment that pays large dividends for most students. As such, reforms that seek to provide broad-based relief to students miss the mark. We need instead to be addressing the problem of debt coupled with low earnings. This plan does exactly that.

Question: What are its strongest and weakest points?

ROBINSON: I think a strength is a focus on investing in education early. It’s great to see a republican governor put an emphasis on early childhood education.

Where there are some development needs; I would have liked to see a stronger focus on the role online education will play. And since he used MLK day to announce his plan, would love to see how his plan at the higher ed level supports HBCUs and what role his K-12 program will play in potentially creating a pipeline to institutions to educate first generation students.

BROWN: It's good to see some elements like making students aware of financial aid sooner and discharging private loans in bankruptcy. It's also a good idea to give teachers more control over their professional development…and to research and disseminate information about what is working in education. It seems like he is proposing to allow states to use Title I of ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and IDEA to provide vouchers directly to students to attend the school of their choice. This proposal would siphon needed funds away from schools serving needy children and do nothing to ensure that the schools they enter would provide them with a quality education.

AKERS: I think a strength of the plan is that is address the issues of risk in higher education. We’re seeing college graduates with lower income and high debt, that’s the problem with the repayment system, that Bush’s plan would solve.

A weakness is his proposal to put more support behind state databases instead of a national comprehensive date set, which would give students access to income earnings for students once they leave school; labor market data.

Question: It advocates Education Savings Accounts to finance college savings, including a 50,000 line of credit, which sounds reasonable enough. Why hasn't this been done before?

ROBINSON: You have five states that have accounts, the majority of those are relatively new programs so they’re just starting to bubble up. The 529 plan that’s already in existence, most people don’t know how it works, this will create an “aha” moment where students will come to realize, ‘You mean I can use that money to pay for tutorial services, online learning, and invest in savings accounts for college?’

AKERS: In the current system, folks know that they’re eligible for Pell Grants, this makes it much more explicit what federal resources will be available to them and that’s actually really important. It’s that getting folks to know about their eligibility could succeed in getting people who are on the edge…this streamlines the process in terms of understanding federal benefits.

And with loan repayment, this removed the middleman that currently exists in the federal loan repayment program which would make repayment a much easier thing for students to participate in and could result to fewer defaults.

Question: What lingering questions are still there?

ROBINSON: Parents may want to know, ‘How do I know I have a quality teacher?’ This plan mentions transparency but I didn’t see it mentioned for the high school levels as well. Is there a role to receive an annual report card about the teacher as well? And the information that students get should also include how many of them get jobs, what kind of certifications the receive.

BROWN: So many! Which 22 early childhood programs is he proposing consolidate? How would he ensure that any quality standards are maintained? How is he proposing to reward "top teachers in the state's lowest performing schools"? How much would teachers receive in professional development accounts and where would that money be taken away from?

AKERS: The plan also creates opportunity for innovative business models in higher education through a reform of the rules for institutional access to federal aid. Here the plan is thin on the details...encouraging innovation is the right idea, but the success of this proposal would completely depend on how it’s implemented.