This post is the second in a series featuring National Alliance board members as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. The Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity.
As the son of the former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Jeb Bush Jr. has been no stranger to politics. Today, he finds himself a champion for a variety of causes, including education and choice. Jeb has fought for the right to make sure all children have access to a high-quality education, no matter what zip code they live in.
Jeb currently serves as the secretary of the board for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and managing partner for Jeb Bush and Associates. He also is the President of Bush Realty, LLC. Among his many titles and roles, most notably, he is the co-founder of Sunpac, a Florida-based Hispanic outreach program that promotes conservative values and principles to the Hispanic community. Bush is also a board member of BBVA Compass South Florida Advisory Board and a board member of the National Immigration Forum based in Washington, D.C.
To discuss his Hispanic heritage and motivation for supporting public charter schools, I recently sat down with Jeb for a Q&A.
What made you join the charter school movement? Why are you a supporter?
My dad and T. Willard Fair, who runs the Urban League of Greater Miami, set up the first charter school in Florida in 1994. I remember helping dad on the weekends by getting the school ready for the school year and the students. Growing up in the education reform movement, I started getting involved in a not-for-profit way where I was doing things in technology or just other industries and came across blended learning charter schools. I then got involved with various charter school start-ups in Florida. In addition to sitting on the National Alliance’s Board, I am involved with KIPP Miami and the Barbara Bush Foundation.
Can you tell me about your K-12 education?
My schooling began at a private school in Miami. After that, I attended a quasi-boarding school in Jacksonville for high school. Growing up in Miami, we have a very diverse population from all parts of Central and South America, especially Cuba and Venezuela. The makeup of Miami was reflective of the student body and the teachers. There were kids from all over the world, but English and Spanish were the dominant languages. In fact, most kids actually came into their K-12 education speaking Spanish first.
Can you describe the current educational landscape for Hispanic families? What barriers to educational opportunities do Hispanic families face?
Just like any other family, there is a huge emphasis and importance placed on education. This begins at a young age. Especially from folks immigrating to this country or who have immigrated and might be second- or third-generation Latino—education is very important across Florida. Around the country, it varies state by state, but places like Texas and Florida, Indiana and maybe Colorado to a certain extent have a greater emphasis on choice. I believe choice allows more people to access education that suits their child best.
In terms of educational options, what solutions do charter schools provide for Hispanic families?
Charter schools allow for choice. In Miami we have various types of charter schools. For example, Armando Christian Perez aka Pitbull has a charter school in Miami called SLAM, which has an emphasis on kids that want to be involved with the arts or sports and entertainment. From a pretty young age, these kids are able to access the things they are really interested in and something they could turn to a profession while getting a good K-12 education. That diversity and choice provides an opportunity for Hispanic families to access free public charter schools.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have when it comes to educational options for Hispanic families?
Everyone listen up: charter schools are public schools. There are different kinds of charters. There’s the example of SLAM. But there are other operators doing a great job. Teachers are treated fairly. Students benefit from having access to a high-quality education—and that’s what charter schools can offer.
What do you want to tell the presidential candidates about charter schools?
First, I would tell them to visit and spend some time at a school. The people who open schools are trying to support kids’ learning needs and anything else they require. We shouldn’t have a one size fits all education system. Rather families and kids should have an opportunity to go to a school that they see fit. So again, I’d encourage candidates to support charter schools, to visit them, and to look at the gains they are making for their students.
In closing, I try to celebrate my Hispanic heritage every month, but I certainly reflect on the culture during this month. I’m proud of my Mexican heritage through my mother. I encourage others to learn and participate as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
Kelsey Nelson is the manager for campaigns and publications at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.