Jeb Bush scholarship dinner raises $313,000

Jeb Bush speaks at Mississippi College Wednesday

Jeb Bush speaks at Mississippi College Tuesday

Submitted by Mississippi College — Headlining Mississippi College’s Spring Scholarship dinner, Jeb Bush made a strong pitch for America to to strengthen its schools and called for the nation to adopt an economically driven immigration plan.

Sounding very much like a 2016 presidential candidate, the former Florida governor stopped short when asked if he’s going to make a run for the White House. “It’s best to make a decision at the proper time,’’ the 60-year-old GOP heavyweight told reporters at a news conference on the Clinton campus Tuesday.

But people keep asking, whether they are from the news media or folks he encounters at airports or Miami Heat basketball games.

Mississippi College President Lee Royce was the latest to toss the question his way at last evening’s banquet that raised $313,000 for student scholarships on the Clinton campus. Bush said he will consider whether it’s the right thing to do for his family and if he’s got something to offer the nation in terms of ideas.

Introducing the prominent Republican to the audience packing Anderson Hall, Gov. Phil Bryant said the Miami resident has proven to be a valuable asset to Mississippi by sharing his ideas about Florida’s charter schools and other education reforms in the Sunshine State. Many of the concepts now appear in Bryant’s “Education Works’’ initiatives before the state Legislature.

“Jeb Bush came to Mississippi at my request,’’ and sat down at the Mississippi Capitol with state leaders, Bryant said. “We will have successes because of Jeb Bush.’’

Bryant’s proposal ran into some trouble Tuesday when the House narrowly killed a version of his overall education package that includes charter schools, third-grade reading proficiencies, new measures for literacy skills for students in kindergarten through the third grade and higher standards to become future teachers. But the 60-58 vote doesn’t kill charter schools since a separate charter schools bill and other education legislation remains alive.

When asked about the pushback on the legislation pending in Mississippi, Bush advised lawmakers and others around the state to “listen to the governor (Bryant).’’ The reform package, he said, “makes a lot of sense.’’

Florida schools enacted many of the same things during his eight-year administration “and our learning gains are pretty good. Don’t feel threatened by this.’’

It’s obvious that the nation needs to ramp up its schools at a time when only one-third of the USA’s high school graduates are ready for college or careers,’’ Bush said. “That’s not a definition of a great country.’’

When as many as 60 percent of the nation’s high school graduates are taking remedial courses in college, “that’s unacceptable,’’ said the leader of a Florida-based foundation committed to improving America’s education system.

Whether the guest speaker talked about education, immigration reform, ideas to help the Republican Party overcome serious challenges, tackled rapid advances in technology, or discussed his famous political family, Bush was a hit with his Mississippi College audience. He also spoke earlier in the day to hundreds of MC students at Self Hall, home of the School of Business.

“All of his points were interesting. They were all things that need to be addressed in a future election,’’ said sophomore Megan Kaye Donahoe of Indianola. “His stand on education is accurate.’’

Said senior Christopher Gruning, 21, of Fort Myers, Florida: “I’m fully supportive. I love charter schools. I like their accountability. It is up to each school district.’’

Jeb Bush demonstrated successes as Florida governor, including balancing the budget, promoting job creation and keeping taxes low, said business professor Billy Morehead. He will bring much to the table in 2016 if the Republican luminary runs for president, he added.

With 75,000 Twitter followers, Bush said he always hears from people, but seldom lets criticism bother him. “I learn not to let criticism bug me.’’ But the son of President George H.W. Bush and brother of President George Bush, says it does get under his skin when folks slam members of his politically well-connected family. “If you love somebody, it is much harder.’’

On the future of the Republican Party that saw its presidential nominee Mitt Romney lose to President Barack Obama in November, Jeb Bush said the GOP needs to be more ”positive and hopeful’’ and do more things to “embrace the diversity of the country.’’ Republicans, he said, “can’t just be against the president’s policies. We need to be for things.’’

Jeb Bush is the latest in the lineup of notable speakers coming to Mississippi College’s spring scholarship banquets. Last year’s headliner was former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Since 2008, the annual dinners have raised more than $1.6 million for student scholarships at the Christian university.


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