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Jeb Bush Criticizes Teacher Unions in Return Visit

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who waged a running battle with Florida's teacher unions during his eight years in office, used a return visit to the state capital to defend education changes he put in place that have come under fire as he mulls a run for president.

Jeb Bush, considered a front-runner in the crowded field of Republican presidential prospects, speaks at a fund-raising luncheon in Tallahassee on Tuesday
Credit Reuters/Bill Cotterell

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A thinner-looking Bush swooped into town for a fundraiser for his newly created political action committee. He also took time to address an education summit on the campus of Florida State University organized by the foundation he helped create.

In his remarks, Bush acknowledged that the high-stakes testing that was a centerpiece of his A+ education plan has come under scrutiny. That plan tied sanctions and rewards based on how students fare on standardized tests. His Republican allies in the Florida Legislature, many of whom say they back a presidential run by Bush, are considering this year whether to scale back the amount of testing now required in the state.

But while Bush called for "better" and "fewer" tests, he also strongly criticized teacher unions, including the Florida Education Association, which is one of the groups legally challenging a private school voucher program that was put in place during Bush's tenure.

"It is wrong to focus on the economic interests of adults when it means children are being held back," said Bush, who added later that education policy should be tailored to help parents and their children "and not so much to protect government-run unionized politicized monopolies."

While discussing many issues surrounding education, Bush did not mention Common Core Standards. The standards, which were used as a framework for Florida's new school standards, have been come under fire from conservatives and potential GOP rivals for the nomination including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Bush championed the standards, but critics have complained they represent a federal intrusion into schools even though the standards were first developed by the state's governors and state education officials from across the country.

Gov. Rick Scott has distanced himself from the standards. He also has called for a review of them by Florida's education officials although he has not taken any steps to block their use in the state's public schools. Scott and Bush had a closed-door one on one meeting at the governor's mansion Tuesday, but Bush said that Common Core did not come up. He maintained he remains supportive of what he called "high standards" but against anything that dictates what curriculum must be used.

Bush also took aim at an old foe — the state's constitutional amendment capping class sizes. Bush unsuccessfully campaigned against the amendment in 2002 and warned that the costs associated with it would "blot out the sun." He urged the state to steer money now spent on hiring more teachers to comply with the amendment to using it for merit pay increases.

While the education summit attracted GOP legislators and other state officials, a small group of teachers stood outside protesting Bush and the policies he pushed into law.

"We've got a crisis going on in education and the crisis is not because we have poor teachers," said Jennifer Anhalt, a teacher from Alachua County. "It's because we have standards created by corporations."

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