The Ripon Forum

Volume 38, No. 3

Fall 2004

Restoring the Sunshine State

By on February 4, 2015

Jeb Bush speaking 1.23.15An interview with Florida Governor Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush was born in Midland, Texas, on Feb. 11 , 1953. After arriving in Florida, he helped start a real estate development company that today is one of the largest, full-service commercial real estate companies in South Florida.

Mr. Bush was elected Florida’s 43rd governor in 1998. He was re-elected in 2002, thus becoming the first Republican to be re-elected governor in the state’s history. Since taking office, his priority has been to create a world-class education system by emphasizing high standards and increased accountability. To achieve this goal, he has provided a record four-year increase of $2.9 billion (26 percent increase) in K-12 funding.

Mr. Bush has also boosted the state’s reserve funds while reducing the state’s tax burden to its lowest level in a decade. He is determined to protect Florida’s natural environment: he has made an historic $2-billion commitment to save Florida’s Everglades.

Mr. Bush is married and has three children. The governor kindly agreed to an interview. We also wish to thank his staff for their cooperation and generosity in making the interview possible.

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RF: Governor Bush, you have made education reform the centerpiece of your administration. What do you consider to be your administration’s primary accomplishments?

Governor Bush: Our primary accomplishment is that we are seeing rising student achievement in our state. Florida is the only state to show significant gains in fourth grade reading on the biannual NAEP rest, commonly known as the nation’s report card. These results mirror what we’re seeing on the FCAT, which is our statewide assessment tool. We are proud of these results, but we are not satisfied with them. Too many of our third graders cannot read on grade level, and the achievement gap among minority students is still too large. Bur the scores are rising and the gap is closing, so we are encouraged that education policies built on high expectations are working.

A related accomplishment is that we have given parents and community leaders more information on the performance of both their schools and their students. Our new school report card provides a school’s grade under Florida’s A+ Plan for Education, along with information on which areas may need improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The report card also compares student performance to resources spent at each school, thus measuring return on investment.

Choices and competition enrich learning opportunities for all students.

This information is not merely instructive to policymakers and education leaders. Over the past five years, we have seen communities rally around low-performing schools and help rum them around, and none of it would have happened without the information the state now provides to assess progress.

Lastly, Florida leads the nation in promoting school choice. We have three scholarship programs in our stare, and we greatly support our charter schools and provide opportunities to parents who choose to home school their children. We believe that choices and competition enrich learning opportunities for all students in Florida.

RF: Florida’s economy has recently rebounded following the recession of 2000-2001. Can you discuss your administration’s economic strategy to stimulate job creation and attract domestic and international investment?

Governor Bush: Investment is the key to economic growth. We use state policy to encourage private investment in several ways. We have lowered state taxes by over $8 billion. We have streamlined regulation. We have forged stronger business ties with our key overseas trading partners, solidifying our state’s position as the Gateway to the Americas.

Florida also funds economic incentive programs to encourage private investment, especially in key high-growth sectors of our economy. These include the life sciences, information technology, aviation and aerospace, homeland security/defense, and financial/professional services. Most dramatically, Florida has become a major participant in biotechnology research by securing the expansion of the Scripps Research Institute to our stare. Our most widely used incentive, the Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund, has helped induce more than 300 projects which have created over 74,000 high-wage jobs and secured $6.1 billion in private sector investment since the program’s inception in 1995.

Investment is the key to economic growth.

RF: You established the Florida Office of Drug Control to address the problem of drug abuse in your state. Can you briefly describe the functions of the Office and discuss how successful it has been in stemming the flow and use of illegal narcotics?

Governor Bush: Prevention, treatment and law enforcement are the three pillars of our drug control strategy, and it is working. For example, ecstasy use among our youth is in decline, and youth smoking has dropped from 18.4 percent in 2000 to 11.5 percent in 2003. We are on pace to achieve our statewide five-year goal to reduce drug use by 50 percent by 2005. Our Office of Drug Control works under the auspices of my office to coordinate these efforts among the various federal, state and local partners who have made this success story happen.

Florida’s Drug Court system is a perfect illustration of how law enforcement and treatment can be achieved simultaneously. Drug offenders under drug court supervision face very strong incentives to stay with the treatment program.

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