Jeb Bush on Obama: ‘The Guy Is on the Right Track’

Oct 8, 2009 7:54pm

Jeb Bush told my colleague, ABC’s Teddy Davis, that he likes what
President Obama is doing on education: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) lavished praise on President Barack Obama’s education policies on Thursday, telling ABC News that the Democrat who succeeded his brother in the White House has broken from the teachers’ unions and should be applauded by conservatives. “The fact of the matter is, the guy is on the right track, and his (Education) Secretary is as well,” said Bush. “I think he sincerely believes that the system has let down an entire generation of students, particularly students of lower income, and he’s passionate about it and the policies reflect a way to improve them.” Bush’s comments, which were made as his two-day education conference was getting underway in Washington, D.C., are his latest effort to reorient the GOP around pocketbook issues and a willingness to find common ground with reformers in both parties. Bush was not always confident that he would find himself in agreement with Obama on education. Shortly after Obama took office, Bush told the Wall Street Journal that the new president should break with an interest group allied with the Democratic Party. “I hope it’s the teachers’ union,” said Bush. Since Bush made those comments, union officials have alternately criticized and praised the new president’s education policies. "It looks like the only strategies they have are charter schools and measurement," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Washington Post last month. "That's Bush III." Weingarten, who praises Obama for massive federal aid to help schools through the recession, told the Washington Post that her 1.4 million-member union is engaged in "a constructive but tart dialogue" with the administration about reform. Reminded of his advice for Obama as well as Weingarten’s “Bush III” comments, Bush said he did not initially know that the new president was willing to cross swords with the teachers’ unions but he showered praise on the president for being willing to do so. “I didn’t know at the beginning that that would be the case, but it’s happened and I think it’s really important for people to be supportive, and if there’s common ground, to express it, so kudos to the president for focusing on children first,” said Bush. The Obama policy which earned Bush’s praise is the “Race to the Top” program.

The initiative uses a chance to compete for $4.35 billion in federal education funds as a way of encouraging states to ease restrictions on charter schools, link teacher pay to student achievement, and adopt national academic standards. “When you say you can compete for this … $4-billion-plus — which is unheard of that kind of money for reform in our country — you can compete on it if you have good data systems, great school choice, a teacher effectiveness policy, those things are the building blocks of reform,” said Bush. Bush, who passed on a Senate run earlier this year, is working behind the scenes to help elect more Republican governors around the country.

 ”All you can do is give them the ammo,” Bush told ABC News. “Show them polling that suggests that there’s a yearning for it. But in the end, the candidates are responsible for their own campaigns.” Although Bush is not taking any formal steps to follow his brother and father to the White House, the question of whether there will be a third “President Bush” is not going away. At a Thursday media availability kicking off his education conference, Bush laughed off a question from veteran reporter Mark Silva about who is running mate would be when he makes education reform the “centerpiece” of a 2012 or 2016 run for president. “15-yard penalty. Loss of downs,” joked Bush. ABC News’ Mary Bruce and Brittany Crockett contributed to this report.

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