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GOP governors running for President tout, tweak and run from their education records
Christie came into office with a tough-minded education reform agenda that included teacher and student accountability and support for tough standards, including Common Core and value-added tests for teacher performance. - photo by Eric Schulzke
Some of the Republican Partys most promising presidential candidates in 2016 are governors or former governors running on their executive experience. Unlike senators, whose experience typically consists of votes and position statements, governors have to govern, leaving a record of hard choices, hurt feelings and other debris behind. That record of choices provides a window into a candidates core values and leadership style that is hard to get from a senator.

Education makes a fruitful field for observing a governors track record, since education funding and policy is a core function of any state government. Here is a quick look at the education track records of eight former governors who are announced or likely GOP presidential candidates.

Jeb Bush, Florida, 1999-2007

Education is Bushs signature issue, and during his tenure Florida rose to the forefront in education reform.

A strong supporter of school vouchers, as well as Common Core and high stakes testing, Bush helped turn Florida into a hotbed of school choice and accountability. He was the driving force behind Floridas first charter school, founded in 1996 before he became governor. His signature voucher program allowing state funds to be used to pay tuition at church-run schools was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2006 as a violation of the church and state separation doctrine in the state constitution.

Bush also pushed through tough school accountability measures, including rigorous testing, performance pay for teachers and a letter grading system for schools. While critics dispute much of his record, even critics concede that his education agenda helped Florida sharply narrow the achievement gap between white students and minorities.

After leaving office, he kept education as his main focus, founding the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a think tank that plays a major role nationally on the testing and accountability side of school reform.

Chris Christie, New Jersey, 2010-

Christie came into office with a tough-minded education reform agenda that included teacher and student accountability and support for tough standards, including Common Core and value-added tests for teacher performance.

He has overseen a steady expansion of charter schools and a controversial revamp of Newark's schools that was originally a joint effort with then-Mayor and now-Senator Corey Booker, a Democrat. The Newark revamp, which broke up neighborhood schools in favor of city-wide school choice, ran into stiff opposition from resentful residents. The state-appointed city school superintendent recently resigned.

Despite that setback, Christie has so far had better luck in Camden, where the state took over local school control in 2013. Working with local leaders this time, the state shut down some local high schools, fired staff to close budget deficits, opened new charter schools. Graduation rates last year rose to 62 percent, still low, but six points higher than the previous year.

After initially supporting Common Core, Christie backed away in May of 2015, actively opposing Common Core as a federal overreach. His administration is launching a plan to pull out and restore local standards.

John Kasich, Ohio, serving 2011-

Kasich has stood by his early support for Common Core standards, but he also supported Ohios withdrawal this summer from the controversial PARRC test designed to accompany those standards.

Kasich has spoken strongly against teacher unions and supports a bill that would strip public employee unions of collective bargaining rights. While running for governor, he spoke of the need to break the back of organized labor in the schools. He also supports performance pay for teachers.

During his inauguration speech in 2011, Kasich called for more choice, more accountability, more dollars in the classroom instead of bureaucracy. He backed that up by pushing through a massive expansion of a tuition voucher program aimed at poor families in failing schools. Charters have also done well under Kasich, with funding for charters up 27 percent.

Mike Huckabee, Arkansas, 1996-2007

Huckabee says he is a strong supporter of state and local control over education, but there is some reason to question this on the record. Huckabee was an early supporter of charter schools, signing a bill in 1999 launching them in Arkansas.

But he was a vocal defender of No Child Left Behind, which centralized federal control of education. Huckabee now says he opposes the Common Core standards, but as recently as 2013 he told supporters they should, "rebrand it, refocus it, but dont retreat." He has similarly been accused of flip-flopping on vouchers. He now supports vouchers but, as Education Week notes, he has a long history of skepticism on vouchers.

Huckabee has been more consistent in his defense of Arkansas policy of giving state tuition to students who lack legal immigration status, a position at odds with much of the party base. And when the state Supreme Court struck down the states school funding formula on grounds of inequality, he embraced the challenge and immediately proposed a sales tax to rectify the imbalance.

Bobby Jindal, Louisiana, 2008-

Critics note that Jindal, pressed with serious budget troubles, has slashed spending on higher education while allowing college tuition to skyrocket. By April of this year, the state's flagship Louisiana State University teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. Much of that budget pressure is due to his states lagging recovery from the Great Recession.

Jindal has been a vocal advocate of charter schools, which have massively expanded under his tenure, including their almost complete triumph in New Orleans. Jindal also spearheaded dramatic education policy changes in 2012, including essentially removing teacher tenure for K-12 school teachers, expanded tuition vouchers, expanded pre-K, and a Florida-like grading system for schools. The teacher tenure element was struck down by courts in 2014.

After at first strongly supporting Common Core, Jindal became the first and most vocal of the GOP aspirants to switch sides and has been dogged in his so-far failed battle to remove his state from the system.

George Pataki, New York, 1995-2007

As a three term GOP governor in a deep blue state, George Pataki is a good indicator for how much education politics have changed. While in office, he strongly backed charter school expansion, earning the ire of teacher unions. Then his successor, liberal Democrat Andrew Cuomo, upped the ante, feuding with teachers unions and pushing even more charter expansion.

Midway through his tenure, the conservative City Journal gave him credit on charter schools, but criticized a massive increase in no-strings-attached funding for a failing New York City school system. And after years of silence on school vouchers, in 2006, Pataki proposed an education tax credit that ended up going nowhere. Support for private education is a big deal in New York, where many Catholic and Jewish parents send their kids to religious schools.

Pataki left office in 2007 before Common Core became a hot potato, so he has not had to revamp a position there.

Rick Perry, Texas, served 2000-2015

Perrys strongest education claim for his historic 15-years as Texas governor is the climb in graduation rates. "Texas now has the second-highest high school graduation rate in the country, Perry said in announcing his 2016 run. And it has the highest graduation rate for African-Americans and Hispanics." That claim was rated "mostly true" by Politifact.

Perry signed and has defended a 2001 law granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant children, putting him at odds with elements of the GOP base.

Under Perry, Texas was one of the few states that refused to adopt the Common Core standards, sitting out the lucrative Race to the Top federal funding lottery as a result.

Perry has long argued for expanding charter schools and creating vouchers for low-income students, but his state still lags behind the national leaders and there are long waiting lists for seats.

Scott Walker, Wisconsin, 2010-

Walker became a flash point when he entered office determined to reform public employee benefits, requiring them pay more toward their pensions and health care and substantially restricting collective bargaining rights. Earlier this year Walker, who attended college but did not graduate, called for the Legislature to strip public university professors of tenure.

In his presidential run, Walker has boasted about his states ACT scores, high school graduation rate, and grade school reading scores. Skeptics point out that Wisconsins schools have always performed well and question the details of these claims.

Walker has presided over a large expansion of Milwaukies pioneering voucher program, while slashing education spending as part of a larger budgetary restraint agenda.

On Common Core, Walker did not flip-flop, but did evolve. Wisconsin had already adopted the core when Walker took office, and his early moves implied tacit support. By 2013, he was calling for repeal, however.