Jeb Bush on Disrupting the Educational Status Quo

"Monopolies don't want to have direct competition."


As governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, Jeb Bush championed school choice. His first year in office he created a program that offered vouchers to students in failing schools. The program boosted student achievement until it was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006. Two other Bush-supported programs—one that offers tax credits to businesses that help send low-income kids to private schools and another that gives vouchers to disabled students—survived the court's ruling.

Bush also expanded the Florida Virtual School, a national model for online public education. Since leaving office, Bush has founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education and serves as co-chairman of the Digital Learning Council. For a video version of the interview, go to reason.tv/video/show/jeb-bush-on-digital-learning.

reason: What is at the very top of your education reform list? 

Jeb Bush: Applying digital learning as a transformative tool to disrupt the public education system, to make it more child-centered, more customized, more robust, more diverse, and more exciting. 

reason: What is the biggest obstacle to implementing digital learning? 

Bush: Digital learning right now is viewed as an adjunct; it's like a whiteboard and a computer in the classroom. You pay for it out of a separate fund; it's not viewed as a core issue of learning. It's viewed as a peripheral, and as such it always has the challenges of funding.

It's that way for a reason. Monopolies don't want to have direct competition. Imagine a repository of a thousand quality courses that moms and dads and teachers could access—imagine how you share the pricing of that.

(Interview continues after video.)

reason: It can't be done, right? There's no model for that anywhere online or in any school. 

Bush: It exists on the margins. Everything exists. I mean, this is what reason teaches us, that markets work and monopolies resist that. If you're a high school and you get $7,000 per student, you have six credits. Divide 7,000 by 6, you would get $1,300. $1,300 for that geometry class split between the providers of the content, the classroom teacher, and the administration around that teacher could easily be handled. It would create higher quality, huge-scale opportunities where you could lower costs. 

reason: What is next for you? 

Bush: I want to be a catalyst to try and find ways for great ideological fights to be fought. I'd like for education to be a place where ideology doesn't drive the decisions, but.…

reason: …does inform the debate.

Bush: …informs the debate, but is focused. I think a liberal could support systemic change. School choice in the '60s was a creature of the left, not of the right. It makes no sense for me to think that you have the left supporting an unsustainable system and the right not focusing on rising student achievement as a higher priority but just focusing on local control being the dominant feature. We need to get the debate beyond that, and I hope to play a role in that.