LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) - Former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday urged Hispanic officials from around the country to embrace the education changes he put into place in Florida, including vouchers and higher accountability.
Bush said politics needs to be taken out of education policy, and that he was proud to introduce Democratic President Barack Obama at a Miami high school last year because they have overlapping views on education policy despite their political differences.
"When we find common ground we shouldn't fight any more. We should move on and build on that success," said Bush, who also referred to recent criticism over remarks he made about the need for compromise in Washington. "Apparently one can get in trouble when they say these kinds of things, but I happen to believe it's the American way. There's enough to fight about."
Bush addressed the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and was well received. He occasionally switched to Spanish during his 18-minute speech, which was entirely about education. He spoke of the need to promote literacy at home, creating higher standards for students and stricter accountability standards for schools, stopping the practice of promoting students who can't read and expanding voucher and school choice programs.
"School choice is a catalytic converter for rising student achievement. In Florida we started on this path before anybody else - you would have thought the world was coming to an end," said Bush, who, in Spanish, compared school choice to the choices grocery shoppers have for leche (milk) - whole, 2 percent fat, chocolate, soy and more. "We should not depend on monopolies to be able to drive education excellence as quickly as we need it to happen."
He also said that high expectations are needed for all students regardless of their background.
"We have tolerated the soft bigotry of low expectations for far too long in this country. It is unacceptable and morally wrong to say 'Juanito no se puede (can't), Maria no se puede' because of their background, because they're newly arrived. All the excuses that you hear, we need to throw them away and have high, lofty expectations for every child in this country," Bush said.
He pointed out that graduation rates and literacy have improved steadily in Florida since he began overhauling Florida's school system after taking office in 1999. Among the changes was holding back elementary school students who couldn't read.
"We have no tolerance for saying that in this great country a fourth grader should be passed along simply because they strapped their butts in a seat for 180 days breathing oxygen and exhaling CO2 and not learning anything," Bush said. "If we get this right, our diversity becomes a strength, our country will prosper, our country will continue to be the greatest country on the face of the earth."
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