Posted 1/29/2013 07:24 am
Updated 2 years ago
LITTLE ROCK — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush urged Arkansas lawmakers Tuesday to expand the use of charter schools in the state, calling increasing education options a civil rights issue that remains unresolved 56 years after the integration of Little Rock Central High School.
Speaking at a rally at the state Capitol staged by a group lobbying for changes in the way Arkansas approves charter schools, the Republican called on state legislators to find ways to expand educational opportunities to the state's low-income students through charter schools and other programs. The Republican said charter schools aim to eliminate the inequalities highlighted by the 1957 integration of Little Rock Central High School by nine black students.
"Fifty-six years after the Little Rock Nine, our most disadvantaged kids are the ones least likely to receive a quality education when they're the ones who need it the most," Bush said at the rally, part of a daylong event held by A Plus Arkansas. "That is why access to a quality education is being called the civil rights issue of our time. It is also the economic issue of our time."
One of Bush's legacies during his eight years as Florida governor, which ended in January 2007, was his overhaul of the state's education system. Bush has been a vocal supporter of vouchers and charter schools.
"Our children can't wait for plodding, incremental change," Bush said. "We need disruptive change. We need to invest in new ideas, new approaches in education. That means creating more options for parents and more competition in schools."
Afterward, Bush told reporters he supports a measure that would remove the Arkansas Board of Education's authority to approve charter school applications. The bill, which was proposed by Rep. Mark Biviano, R-Searcy, would create a five-member commission - one member appointed by the governor and four members appointed by legislative leaders - that would consider charter school applications.
"My experience around the country is an independent statewide authorizer will, in all likelihood, not be used that much, but it will instill some discipline in local school districts to not just reject out of hand high quality charters," Bush said.
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe opposes the creation of an independent commission to consider charter applications. Arkansas has 18 open enrollment charter schools and 14 district conversion charter schools, which are public schools that have been converted to charters.
"I think the state board has been judicious and has progressed with thoughtful consideration," he said on his monthly call-in show on AETN last week.
Bush, the brother of former President George W. Bush, has been mentioned frequently as a potential Republican candidate for president in 2016, but he deflected any talk about his political future about Tuesday's rally.
When asked whether he was thinking about running in 2016, he replied: "I'm thinking about trying to help places that are interested in reforming education."
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