Monday, January 22, 2018
Politics

Mysterious group right about Crist implementing Bush's A+ Plan

Gov. Rick Scott isn't the only one attacking presumptive gubernatorial rival Charlie Crist. An outside group called Progressive Choice Florida has taken a few shots as well — although there's some question as to which side the group is on.

In a flier that appeared in Florida mailboxes around March 30, the group attacks Crist's history as a GOP member, saying "Conservative Republican Charlie Crist is no friend of progressive Democrats."

It then lists several examples:

Charlie Crist's record proves he is …

• Pro-life

• NRA A+ rated

• 'Chain Gang Charlie'

• Implemented Jeb Bush's A+ Plan

• Signed petition banning gay marriage

Interesting to note is the mystery over exactly who funds Progressive Choice, the Florida chapter's parent organization. It claims on a bare bones website that the larger group is "a diverse coalition of fair-minded, forward-thinking individuals and organizations advocating for leadership that stands firm on progressive principles and genuinely reflects the interests of all progressives across the nation." The site also lists the group as "a 501(c)(4) social welfare advocacy organization."

There has been some speculation that Progressive Choice is a GOP front funded to draw Democratic voters away from Crist, particularly in the upcoming primary against Nan Rich. The group is not yet listed with the Federal Election Commission or the Florida Division of Elections, so contributions are untraceable. The mailer lists a Washington P.O. box and says the mailers were sent from Orlando.

We've dealt with some of those claims before, but the part about Bush's education plan caught our attention.

Bush floated the idea of overhauling Florida education standards during his 1998 campaign, crafting a plan with then-Education Commissioner Frank Brogan, who was his running mate.

The plan suggested expanding the use of the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, which at the time was new and administered to fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders. Student test performance (along with attendance and violence rates, and graduation rates at high schools) would be used to give schools a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F.

The proposal rewarded with monetary bonuses schools that earned an A, or improved their grade in a year. Failing schools had two years to improve or would be turned over to the state. The state could then change school staff and implement changes as it saw fit. Students at F schools could transfer to private schools with taxpayer-funded vouchers.

Critics were especially vocal about the vouchers, saying it would take much-needed funding away from public schools. The use of standardized test scores also was controversial.

Bush was elected and announced his A+ Plan for Education his first month in office. This version required annual FCAT testing for grades 3 through 10 each year, with a passing grade required for promotion. The grading and voucher components remained, with higher school grades resulting in more funding. The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the plan in 1999.

Enter Education Commissioner Crist.

Crist won a statewide election for the post after Tom Gallagher, who became commissioner in 1999, resigned to run for U.S. Senate in 2000. Crist took office in 2001 and served until 2003, when the elected Cabinet post changed to an appointed position under a new law.

One of Crist's duties was to follow the education agenda set by Bush and the Legislature before Crist took office. His campaign acknowledged that Crist put Bush's plan into action.

"Charlie was education commissioner from 2001-2003, so of course he would be responsible for implementing A+," campaign spokesman Steve Geller told PolitiFact Florida in an email. "A+ was passed by the Florida Legislature ... and any education commissioner would have had to implement these plans."

We rate the statement True.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

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