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Jeb Bush touts charter schools and vouchers at Missouri Capitol

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush visits the Missouri Capitol. (March 2, 2017)
Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told Missouri lawmakers on Thursday that expanding charter schools is a way to help students improve their performance.

His visit comes as Missouri lawmakers will consider allowing charter schools beyond St. Louis and Kansas City this session. Gov. Eric Greitens is a backer of school choice.

Bush, a former 2016 GOP presidential candidate, told GOP lawmakers that charter schools helped the state of Florida.

"All I know is public schools got better when we did all this, they didn't get worse," Bush said. "The learning gains among public schools and public students soared at the exact same time we expanded private and charter options for families."

Florida enacted the first statewide school voucher program in the nation, allowing students to use public money to attend private schools. Bush said Missouri's proposed education savings accounts are somewhat similar and could greatly benefit the state. 

He reiterated a story told by President Donald Trump this week about Jacksonville, Florida, native Denisha Merriweather, who as a child spent two years in the third grade before receiving a school voucher for a private school.

"She got to go to a private school ... and was the first in her family to graduate from college," he said, "... if the argument is taking money away from a system, rather than focusing on empowering people, yeah, that's a great argument, but the simple fact is Denisha would probably be in jail, but instead she's now going to be an extraordinarily important producer and contributor to Florida."

The Missouri School Boards’ Association has said it won’t try to entirely block charter school expansion, but instead would like to see some limits, including that charters schools are controlled by established districts so there’s accountability for taxpayers. 

Bush now chairs the Foundation for Excellence in Education in Florida, which he founded in 2008. He also runs investing and consulting businesses, both of which he temporarily left while running for president last year. He also met privately with Republican lawmakers on Thursday.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.