Bush Calls for Addressing Opportunity Gap at State Level

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush told children’s advocates in Council Bluffs, Iowa last week that he agrees with well-known commentators of the left and the right that, “we really have lost our social and economic mobility, and we need to fix it.”

The Florida governor did not signal any specific actions he might take as president to do so, though, indicating a preference for state-level solutions in policy areas such as early childhood education and child literacy.

During a campaign meet-and-greet attended by Every Child Matters Iowa staffers Kelli Soyer and Jill Applegate, as well as by EJ Wallace of Save the Children Action Network, Bush responded to a question from EJ about Harvard scholar Robert Putnam’s recent public presentation at Drake University in Des Moines. Putnam’s presentation there focused on the worsening class-based opportunity gap that leaves kids of parents with lower levels of income, wealth and educational attainment behind, increasingly excluded from an equal chance at life success. EJ noted that Bush had told Des Moines Register reporter Jason Noble that Putnam’s, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, is one of the most influential books in his life. EJ further pointed out that providing high-quality early childhood education is one of the “purple” policy solutions that Putnam’s book suggests for closing the opportunity gap between wealthy and less affluent kids.

Bush agreed that the lack of social and economic mobility described by Putnam is “one of the great challenges of our time.” Bush also praised conservative author Charles Murray for documenting similar trends in his book, Coming Apart. “We’re stuck,” Bush said. “If you’re born poor you’re more likely to stay poor. If you’re wealthy, you’re more likely to stay wealthy.”

Bush said he agreed that early childhood education can address the lack of economic mobility. He argued that good solutions on that issue will generally come from states, however, not the federal government, and provided examples of Florida’s voluntary pre-k program, available for half a day to 4-year-olds. Bush called the federal Head Start program “extraordinarily expensive” and criticized other federal programs that do not deliver “measurable outcomes.”

Bush suggested that states should be allowed to expand their own childhood literacy programs rather than being forced to adopt a federal program. “A lot more innovation comes at the local and state level than it does from Washington, DC,” he said.

For more on Robert Putnam’s recent presentation, organized and co-sponsored by Every Child Matters, Save the Children Action Network and numerous local and national organizations, click here.