Patricia Levesque Is A Powerful Force Behind School Choice In Florida
Levesque is a divisive figure, drawing criticism from parent groups that charge she and Bush are out to boost the bottom line of private corporations at the expense of students.
We sat down with Levesque to discuss her mission and hear what she has to say to her detractors.
Q: You served as an education adviser to former Gov. Jeb Bush, and now you run two education policy organizations with him. One is Florida-focused, the other is national. What are you working to accomplish?
A: We want to create an education system where each and every child has the ability to reach his or her God-given potential.
There are a lot of policies at the state level that can impact whether a child gets those opportunities, from the quality of the teacher in the classroom to the funding formula and how our public schools get funded to giving that child educational choice.
Q: A lot of the work does focus on other states, so why do you choose to do that instead of just focusing on Florida?
A: In 1998, Florida on the National Assessment of Educational Progress was ranked third from the bottom, and we’re currently number 11 in the country. For a large state with the disadvantaged population that we have – 57 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced price lunch status – all the progress that we made is really tremendous. If any of those policies can help other states, that’s what we want to do.
Q: Groups that oppose Jeb Bush on education policy say the Florida foundation is a front for a nationwide political campaign he’ll launch soon. Others say this is about helping private education companies make money. Your intentions are so often questioned. Is that par for the course or do you think there’s something else going on here?
A: If Gov. Bush wanted to run for a higher office someday, there would be much easier ways than going state by state, working in a really, really rigorous way in helping states do good education policy.
What we would like to have is a policy discussion. Do you believe that there should be high quality choice options for parents? We do. And we don’t push any particular vendor’s program. We’ve always been policy based.
I think people like to make those allegations because they don’t believe in the policy we stand for, and so that’s the way they want to attack us. I think most of the entities that want to speculate or want to throw stones at what we do have their own agenda.
Q: The foundation has a broad agenda for this session, but what do you think is the most urgent issue in education right now?
A: I think there are so many that are important. One of the number one priorities that the Foundation for Florida’s Future has is to make sure every child has access to a laptop or some type of technology that also has wireless and internet connections.
Kids are digital natives. We want to see our schools be the first in the country with one to one devices, with a wireless infrastructure so that every child has access to technology.
My son has autism and has really made one of our other legislative priorities very important to me, and that is a bill that empowers parents so that I have a say in making sure that my child can earn a standard diploma — that the school district can’t just put my child on an alternative curriculum track without my approval.
Then the third thing that I think is really important is we really need to make sure that we are effectively implementing Common Core State Standards.
Florida’s old standards required that students in kindergarten know how to count from 1 to 36. Under Common Core State Standards, students (in kindergarten) should count from zero to 100 and be able to count from 36 to zero backwards.
Every single time Florida has raised standards, our students and our teachers in our schools have met those standards, and they will have greater success in the future because of it.