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Setting the Record Straight

• Jaryn Emhof

The Foundation for Excellence in Education promotes reforms to give children a better education.

While the organization is seven years old, this reform agenda dates back to the 1990s. Much of it was developed by Gov. Jeb Bush in response to an education crisis in Florida. Almost half the state’s fourth graders were functionally illiterate, with the percentages much higher for minority and low-income children. This had a devastating impact on the state’s graduation rate, which hovered around 50 percent and made Florida one of the worst academic performers in the nation.

To reverse these trends, Gov. Bush pushed an agenda that included school choice, improved teacher quality, school accountability, higher standards for all students and a competency-based promotion policy for third graders to ensure they are prepared to succeed in later grades. The state also undertook an effort to give traditionally disadvantaged students access to the same Advanced Placement classes readily available to more affluent students. These changes forced school districts to place a priority on previously ignored low-income schools, with a corresponding increase in the performance of those schools.

The reforms turned around the state’s education system, and the biggest beneficiaries were low-income students, minority students and students with disabilities. Their academic progress made Florida one of the nation’s leaders in improving education for traditionally under-served students. This accomplishment attracted interest from other states.

After leaving office, Gov. Bush formed the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) to promote these reforms, an effort that has attracted broad-based, bi-partisan support. Our team of policy experts has since crisscrossed the country, working with states interested in enacting these and other reforms.

Our efforts have gained support from both ends of the political spectrum, and we also have been attacked by both ends of the political spectrum.  We have had donors come and go. And through it all, our agenda and what we do has not changed.

Over 80 percent of ExcelinEd’s operational expenses are funded by private foundations, non-profit organizations, philanthropies and individuals. Like every other organization, we accept corporate sponsorships to fund our annual national gathering – the National Summit on Education Reform.  If there were no corporate sponsors, the convention business in America would shut down tomorrow.

One of our bedrock principles always has been to expand quality school choice options for parents. These include traditional public schools, charter schools, vouchers, tax-credit scholarship programs, virtual schools and education savings accounts. ExcelinEd’s support for online education dates back to Gov. Bush’s advocacy for it 15 years ago, when he played a large role in turning the state-owned Florida Virtual School into one of the largest, most well-respected online providers in the country.

We believe states should embrace a variety of education choices, expand those that advance student achievement and weed out those that do not.

It is our hope that one day naysayers will put aside rhetoric, embrace a student-centered education system and engage in an education transformation that will provide America’s students the quality education they deserve.

About the author

Jaryn Emhof @jarynemhof

Jaryn served as the Vice President of Communications for the Foundation for Excellence in Education until July 2016. Previously, Jaryn served in the Florida Senate for 10 years, working as a legislative assistant to then-State Senator Daniel Webster and, most recently, Communications Director for Senate President Jeff Atwater. Jaryn holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and is pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration from the Reubin O’D. Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University.