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Not in the Concrete

by Derek Newton

Watching Governor Jeb Bush struggle to avoid enforcing the class size amendment reminds me of an old joke.

The joke goes that an older man is always bragging to his neighbors about how much he loves children. One day, some neighborhood children wander onto his freshly paved driveway. Irate, the man storms into the street yelling at the children and scolding their parents. When confronted with his previous statements about his love of children, he replies, "Sure, I love children in the abstract - just not in the concrete."

In 1998 candidate Bush was giddy about education. He promised to be the "education governor" chatted up his son (George P. Bush) working as a public school teacher, started a non-profit foundation and bragged about his role in founding a charter school in Miami.

Back then Bush believed in the benefits of lower class sizes. In a letter to political supporters about his charter school he wrote, "the total student body and class sizes will be small to maintain a human, loving environment."

Even before that, the soon-to-be Governor's son (George P.) began an educational career at a series of schools where small classes were a key selling point. He graduated from the private Gulliver school in Coral Gables, attended Rice University and earned a law degree from the University of Texas.

Gulliver's website boasts it has, "class sizes small enough to enable instructors to meet students" individual needs. And Rice University tells students and parents that it has, "an undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio of 5-to-1." And, not to be outdone, the law school at the University of Texas brags about a, "friendly environment with small classes."

Clearly, schools with small class sizes were good investments for the Bush family and a good investment for the Governor's political supporters.

So it was an odd sight four years later to see our "education governor" publicly oppose the citizen petition to force funding of class size reduction in everyone else's classrooms.

It was not a surprise when voters overruled the governor and passed the class size initiative in spite of his dire warnings that it would "block out the sun," raise taxes, force bussing and end civilization as we know it.

Now that the tab for reducing class sizes is coming due, it's amazing how many things have changed since our "education governor" was an education candidate: his son went from teacher to lawyer, his foundation is out of business and he is now scolding voters for passing the class size amendment in the first place.

(Feel free to insert your joke here about how voters in 2002 were smart enough to re-elect the governor but stupid to require leaders to get serious about class sizes.)

In his attempt to wiggle off the voters' hook of class size reductions, the governor has returned to the same doomsday rhetoric about budget limitations, bussing and teacher salaries that voters didn't buy the first time.

Just last month Republican Representative Frank Farkas of St. Petersburg (a senior member of the Pre-K - 12 Education Committee) told the St. Petersburg Times that he chose a private school for his child in part because of its small class sizes.

Most voters aren't buying Bush's latest push to reverse the class size vote because, they, like Rep. Farkas, understand that smaller classes can greatly increase the quality of education.

It's obvious from his history that our "education governor" knows this too.

It would be really sad if our governor’s position on class size is that they are great if you can afford them for your children. But if you want smaller classes in your school, you're wrong.

And it just isn't funny that our "education governor" is like the man in the joke; he loves children on the campaign trail just not in his budget.


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