Friday, November 04, 2011

Conservatively speaking

Speaking at the Center of the American Experiment Fall Briefing at Orchestra Hall on October 26, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush outlined four major policy areas that he feels must be advanced in order to turn around this country's economic crisis:
  • Strong, two-parent families that provide stability and enable success for our children
  • Streamlined, common-sense business regulation that achieves results, not simply grows the bureaucracy
  • Domestic and Canadian sources of energy that free our economy from control by unfriendly nations
  • Education that enables our workers to compete globally, instead of producing the same results at higher and higher costs
One attendee commented before Bush's speech that he didn't know there were enough conservatives in all of Minnesota to fill the Orchestra Hall lobby (this event proved that there are). The evening's discussions were emphatic without being partisan or even overly ideological. It helped that Bush is not running for office, and that the Center calls itself conservative and non-partisan.

Attendees picked up printed copies of Senior Fellow Katherine Kersten's white paper "Preparing All Minnesota Children to Read by Third Grade," which was one of Florida's recent education reforms and was stated as a "goal" by the Minnesota state education omnibus finance bill that was passed this past session. Learning to read by third grade has been called critical by education experts, who say that after third grade, pupils begin to read to learn. Many pupils who don't learn to read by third grade struggle for the rest of their academic careers. Since 2003, when Florida began to require third-graders to read before being promoted to fourth grade, the number of third-graders scoring below this standard has fallen 41 percent. Middle school reading scores there have also risen significantly since 2006, when this cohort entered middle school.

The Center's president, Mitch Pearlstein, introduced his new book, From Family Collapse to America's Decline: The Educational, Economic, and Social Costs of Family Fragmentation. The book echoes Jeb Bush's first policy priority. Education scholar Chester Finn said, "Parents are the first and most influential teachers that any child has and the family the first and most influential school. When those are in good shape and to their part, kids tend to fare well in education and in life. When those falter, great schools (and other key institutions) can help a lot—but never really substitute. Understanding—and trying to reverse—America's 'nuclear meltdown' is this thoughtful book's peerless contribution."

Public policy events like this are good venues for discussing the issues of the day outside the context of legislative strategy or election-year politics. Minnesota's Center of the American Experiment is a national bastion of conservative solutions.

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