Jeb Bush sounds call for choice

Jeb Bush, whose education reforms in Florida have inspired efforts elsewhere around the nation, preached to the choir Tuesday in a speech to the annual ACE Scholarships luncheon.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
After reciting a list of discouraging education statistics, the Florida governor said, “Yet we quietly sit back and say there’s all sorts of reasons why this is happening. We can’t do anything about it. … You’ve heard it all over and over, and the complacency overwhelms us to the point where now I would say this more than any of the other great structural challenges we face in our nation puts us at risk of being a nation in decline.”

Bush continued, “We need to make this a national priority, not necessarily a federal government priority … but a national priority, and the path to make this happen, in my opinion, is to make it something of great national purpose and focus on a formula of success.”

That formula, he said, includes:

  • Parental engagement
  • Higher standards
  • “I’m-not-kidding accountability based on student achievement”
  • Customized learning
  • “Reform of the teaching profession where great teachers are rewarded and bad teachers are asked to leave the classroom” (to applause)

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And, Bush said, there’s “one other element, which is to empower people with the great American concept of choice.”

He called choice “as American as apple pie … but why do we not accept the notion that maybe in schooling perhaps the most important thing we ought to be doing for our children is that we ought to providing more choices?”

He termed choice “a catalytic converter than can accelerate ourselves forward before it’s too late” to reform education and ensure that more students are college and career ready.

School choice is the core mission of ACE Scholarships, which provides financial support averaging $2,160 a year to some 1,200 low-income students to attend private schools.

Bush outlined the education reforms he pushed in Florida as governor from 1999-2007, including an A-to-F grading system for schools, incentive funding for improved school performance, higher standards and the end of third grade social promotion. (Colorado’s new READ Act was inspired partly by Florida’s third grade policies.)

He also noted, “We created the most ambitious school choice program … and [that] was a key ingredient in why we saw public schools improving.”

Bush also criticized what he called “the three myths” about school choice:

  • Some kids can learn but others can’t
  • School choice drains money from public schools
  • Choice “creams” the best students from public schools

To the contrary, he said, “All schools do better when there are more choices.”

As education becomes ever more important to individual success, “the right to rise as a bedrock American value is being threated to its core” by weaknesses in the educational system, said Bush, who now heads the Foundation for Excellence in Education. “Who we are as a nation is going to be altered in a way that may be permanent” if reforms aren’t made.

“We can change the course of our country by making sure that educational opportunities are afforded to all of us. … The next generation could flood this nation with unprecedented shows of human potential, and that should be our goal.”

Bush encouraged the audience to “join reformers to make school choice both public and private the norm in our country. School choice is an economic imperative, school choice is a moral imperative, school choice is an integral part of the restoration of the American ideal that anybody can make it in this country of ours. … Keep up the fight.”

The luncheon, which drew about 1,700 to the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Denver, is a key fundraising event for ACE, which hopes to raise enough funding to provide scholarships for 2,000 students next school year. ACE books high-profile speakers for the event; former Washington, D.C., superintendent Michelle Rhee was last year’s headliner.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede