Conservative Report Applauds Bush And Progress Of Florida Schools

The Koret Task Force is a group of Hoover Institution scholars and conservative think tank. The group released a nine-month review report in September that commends Governor Jeb Bush on his efforts to reform the Florida schools.

The results were formally announced at an Orlando Hotel with the members of the Task Force and Bush present, as well as Representative Ralph Arza, a Republican from Hialeah and chairman of the House Pre K-12 Committee.

Paul E. Peterson, the editor for the report, commended Bush’s implementation of voucher programs, especially the McKay Scholarship and Corporate Tax Credit programs, both of which pay for students to attend private schools (McKay covers disabled children and the Corporate program covers impoverished children). He called the programs “trendsetters” for the rest of the nation. Peterson also praised the newly implemented merit-based pay system for Florida schools teachers, the first statewide program of its type in the United States.

The report encouraged the state legislature to restore the Opportunity Scholarship Program for the Florida schools, which the Florida Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional in January. The program enabled students who had attended Florida schools graded as “F” twice within four years to use state money to attend private schools.

The report stated that Florida schools students had made “impressive” gains in reading and math on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (F-CAT) since 1998. The Florida schools also are better than the national average in closing the achievement gap between minority students and whites.

The Task Force recommends that the Florida schools accountability system should place more emphasis on student growth, rather than overall performance. Another recommendation is for a less centralized control of Florida schools with more room for individual schools to decide how to spend classroom funding.

The report supports Bush’s efforts to repeal the class size reduction amendment, passed by voters in 2002. Besides being too costly for the Florida schools, Peterson stated that very little evidence supported its benefits and recruiting enough experienced teachers is difficult.

Though the study was intentionally conducted by academics in order to distance it from political views that frame the current educational debate, many question the validity of the report. Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, the state’s teacher union, particularly took issue with the report’s recommendation to make the probation period for Florida schools teachers five years versus three, noting that it takes away more teacher involvement. As to the other results found by the report, he said they were exactly what the Union expected, with Bush supporters funding it.

The $250,000 report was privately funded with the aid of two Republican donors — Outback Steakhouse founder Chris Sullivan and Ft. Lauderdale cardiologist Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah. Both men have donated extensively to GOP causes, including Bush’s campaigns.

Representative Arza said he would fight to protect the governor’s reforms, as well as to implement the recommendations of the task force to the legislature, including the repeal of the class size reduction amendment for the Florida schools.

“We have made progress in this state over the last eight years,” noted Bush at the ceremonies. “We know, because we measure. It’s one of the guiding principles of what we do.”

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