Jeb Bush is trying to present himself to the public as a moderate. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When it comes to education, Jeb Bush boasts of the wonderful transformation of the schools in Florida, but that is not an accurate portrayal of what Bush actually did. With his far-right dedication to privatization, he has created a voracious industry of greed, which relies on the public’s gullibility. Some of his allies are getting very rich, but the children of Florida are not benefitting by the opening and closing of charter schools, many of which operate for-profit.

Jeff Bryant describes how Jeb did it, knowing full well that he would destroy public education at the same time:

The obsession over money that is driving charter school growth in Florida is increasingly evident to those who bother to look.

“Outrageous,” is the word former state Senator Nan Rich uses to describe recent decisions Florida lawmakers made to steer more money toward these schools. Until she termed out, Rich represented the 34th District that overlaps part of Broward County. Although she has never opposed charter schools, she now believes financial demands coming from the sector have become unreasonable.

As a recent article in Florida’s Herald-Tribune notes, for the past two years, only charter schools have received capital outlay funds from the state for new construction. Now charter school lobbyists say their schools deserve a share of local property taxes too.

“When they were started, charters were never supposed to tap capital funds,” Rich explains, “but gradually lawmakers with ties to the charter industry tipped the scales to favor them financially.”

“I’m not one who opposes charter schools that are set up the way they were intended,” Rich adds. But she now believes, “The whole movement … is undermining public education and moves public money to private interests.”

What Rich and Jensen describe is an increasing fear among parents and public officials across South Florida – and Broward County in particular – that any educational value charter schools were supposed to bring to the state is now overshadowed by corruption and chaos linked to money-making.

A new consensus is percolating from the ground up that those responsible for starting and operating charter schools, and making decisions to support the growth of these schools, “don’t understand children,” as Jensen puts it. They’re mostly, “motivated by money….”

Most people trace the manic scramble for more charter schools in Florida to one source: former governor and current Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush. In 1996, two years before he became governor, Bush helped steer passage of the state’s first law permitting charter schools. That same year, he led the effort to open the state’s first charter, Liberty City Charter School in Miami.

During Bush’s first administration, charter school growth averaged a whopping 56 percent annually in the Sunshine State, according to a Florida-focused NPR outlet. Annual growth rates during his second and final four-year term dropped to 17 percent, but by the time Bush left office in 2007, charter schools across the state had grown from a modest 30 in total to well over 300. The number of Florida charter schools has since doubled to over 600.

In his initial campaign to promote these schools, Bush maintained that charter schools would rescue students from supposedly failed public schools, especially in low-income communities of color. But by 2009 – two years after he left office – Bush’s rationale for charter schools had significantly changed.

According to a Palm Beach Post news article published that year, Bush debuted his revamped message at a summit put on by his non-profit organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, in Washington D.C. In his speech to that group, he declared, “I wish our schools could be more like milk. … Go down the aisle of nearly any major supermarket these days and you will find an incredible selection of milk. … They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk.”

Bush would repeat his observation from the dairy aisle three years later at the Republican National Convention of 2012, and what was once thought of as a civil rights cause became firmly established as a campaign for a new business-oriented model that would offer increased consumer “choice.”

“It started as a movement and now it’s an industry,” Vickie Marble, a well-known Florida charter school advocate, gleefully declared to NPR reporters chronicling the evolving messaging campaign.

One of Jeb’s favorite charter chains is Academica:

With nearly 100 schools in Florida “and well over $150 million in annual revenue,” Academica has been a key player in charter school expansions in the state since 1999. And Bush has shown an affinity for the schools for years. “As governor,” Hensley-Clancy reports, “Bush visited Academica schools several times, his emails show.”

But Academica has a long history of financial wheeling and dealing, so much so the organization is now the target of “an ongoing federal probe into its real estate dealings,” as the Miami Herald reported in 2014. While the 1996 law allowing charters to operate in Florida restricted applicants to nonprofit groups only, profit-minded charter businesses like Academica have skirted that restriction.

Another of his buddies runs the for-profit Charter Schools USA chain:

Another large, Florida-based, for-profit charter school chain, Charter Schools USA, practices a similar business scheme. As a Florida television outlet reported in 2014, “Charter Schools USA makes millions by managing schools, but tens of millions building and renting their buildings.”

The reporters note that when a non-profit board opens a new charter school and contracts with Charter Schools USA to manage it, Charter Schools USA’s for-profit “development arm, Red Apple Development, acquires land and constructs a school. Then, CUSA charges the school high rent.” One charter school paid “a $2 million rent payment to CUSA/Red Apple Development. The payment will equate to approximately 23 percent of its budget.”

Academica and Charter Schools USA are hardly the only large charter chains operating under these kinds of business practices in Florida and generating significant growth as a result. According to Hall’s research, “The top four charter operators in Florida for 2011-2012 were Academica (72), Charter Schools USA (37), Charter School Associates (20), and Imagine Schools (23).” More recent research by Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker finds that large charter school chains – the ones mentioned by Hall, as well as others like White Hat Management, Rader Group, the Richard Milburn Academy and KIPP – dominate the state.

As governor, then later as the head of his influential foundation, Jeb Bush did everything he could to facilitate these sorts of charter school business dealings. As MacGillis explains in his piece for the New Yorker, “Bush signed a law allowing charter operators who were denied approval by local school boards to appeal to the state.” The “state,” in this case means the Florida State Board of Education, which was appointed by, you guessed it, Gov. Bush.

If he is elected President, we can say farewell to public education and hello to financial schemes that generate millions for charter chains.

Spread the news. Send Jeff Bryant’s story to every newspaper writer, every TV reporter, every editorial board.

Jeb Bush is no moderate. He is a front man for the avaricious.