The Jeb Bush vs. Charlie Crist show
Well, if ever there was an event to highlight the differences between Gov. Charlie Crist and his predecessor Jeb Bush, this morning's press conference to unveil a lengthy education reform report was it.
Call it the policy wonk vs. the policy featherweight show.
Bush, the self-styled "education governor" whose education foundation is working on reforms nationwide, easily spouted off data on where Florida is compared to others states and was unequivocal in what he thinks the Legislature should do right now to get the report's reforms under way: require more online learning starting in K-12, overhaul teacher tenure, and raise graduation standards by requiring Algebra II, Biology and other higher-level math and science courses.
Former Speaker Allan Bense, now chair of Enterprise Florida, praised Bush's work as governor to emphasize and expand the use of accountability measures like the FCAT.
Crist, meanwhile, said things like "We must ensure a pipeline of students to build Florida's economy." He thanked Bush and Frank Brogan, the former lieutenant governor who now leads the state universities, for "starting many of the education reforms that have improved education in Florida." He touted Florida's rise from No. 10 to No. 8 by Education Week, which was announced Wednesday.
But when asked pointedly whether he supports some of the report's most controversial recommendations - the ones supported by Bush and his education foundation - Crist ducked.
Would you support a constitutional amendment on private school vouchers, reforming teacher tenure, a Bright Futures overhaul? reporter Gary Fineout asked.
"I am supporting the consensus of what is presented here today," Crist said, without elaborating.
Asked the likelihood of giving $1.75 billion in state money to higher ed over the next five years, Crist also gave an elliptical response: "These are challenging times, and we have to make the proper investment. But we also have to live within our means. And it is not just government that answers that call; private industry has to answer that call, but certainly government will do its part."
The press conference was a rare joint appearance of Crist and Bush. Joining them were members of Crist's administration but also several who worked in politics under Bush as governor.
Bush and Crist shook hands briefly and politely thanked each other "for being here," but Bense stood between Bush and Crist. And when Bense stepped to the podium and Crist moved next to Bush, it sure looked like Bush took one step in the other direction.
Bush left the press conference before it ended.