Prior to beginning his career in politics, Jeb Bush worked in commercial real estate in south Florida. “I got out just in the nick of time for the biggest building boom in Florida history,” said Bush at ULI’s 2013 Fall Meeting in Chicago.
He was governor during a 16-month period when Florida was ravaged by hurricanes and tropical storms, which resulted in the loss of more than 1 million homes. Compounding the tragedy, the private insurance market then essentially failed. Under Bush, Florida passed tougher building codes and a requirement that some gas stations use alternative power sources so that pumps continue to function. He recalled visiting Punta Gorda after Hurricane Charlie struck, where the only house that was still standing was one that had been built under the new codes.
Given Bush’s history in Florida, immigration and education are two topics he sees needing reform.
Bush said that even during the lowest points of the recent recession, as many as 3 million jobs were unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. Immigrants tend to be younger and tend to have a higher rate of homeownership, which would reverse two potentially troubling trends in U.S. demographics. Bush says that the rate of small-business creation is 50 percent higher among immigrants, and that foreign-born scientists are granted more patents than U.S.-born scientists.
He called for reforming the H-1B visa program, saying there is a ten-year waiting list for visas to be converted to green cards, meaning the United States sends back some of its most talented immigrant workers to their home countries. He also said, “We’re the only country in the world that has family reunification that allows for siblings and parents.” Restricting family reunification to spouses and minor children would free up 6,000 spots per year, says Bush.
But Bush also called for better border security, saying that 40 percent of the people who are in the United States illegally originally came here legally. “I know we’ve had some trouble with websites recently,” he said, adding that the federal government needs to figure out a way to track people who are here legally and ask them to leave when appropriate.
In addition, Bush sees a crisis in American education, where half of the Hispanic and African American fourth-graders are functionally illiterate, and 85 percent of delinquent children are illiterate. He says the United States should focus on early literacy, hiring reading coaches to supplement teachers.
Bush also called for higher standards and open markets for education, saying that where charter schools were introduced in Florida, the traditional schools also tested better. The state introduced a grading system for schools, which Bush said was an important tool for recognizing which schools were doing well and which were not.
We need to revamp how we compensate teachers, said Bush, paying better teachers more. He said that a good teacher is worth an extra half of a year of education in the classroom, while a below-average teacher can cost students a half a year. So after two years, the students with the above-average teacher are a full school year ahead, while the below-average teacher’s class is a full year behind.
Lastly, Bush said we should embrace technology in the classroom, allowing for more customization of lesson plans, and also allowing stronger students to move ahead at their own pace. He also called for the concept of lifelong learning. “We have tools we didn’t have a decade ago,” said Bush. “Kids in rural Mississippi can take the same classes as those in Chicago.”