TAMPA, Fla. - Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday gave a spirited defense of his brother, George W. Bush, during an address to the Republican National Convention --- saying President Obama should "stop blaming" the former president for economic problems.
"My brother, well, I love my brother,'' Jeb Bush said, detouring from a prepared speech about education policy. "He is a man of integrity, courage and honor. And during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe."
Bush directly challenged Obama for continuing to remind voters about inheriting a deeply troubled economy from George W. Bush in 2009.
"So Mr. President, it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies,'' Jeb Bush said. "You were dealt a tough hand, but your policies have not worked."
The former governor spoke in advance of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney taking the podium to formally accept the party's nomination to run against Obama. Bush, whose father also served as president, received a long ovation as he came on stage.
After talking about his brother --- and saying he had "gotten that off my chest" --- Bush pitched education reforms that were a signature of his eight years leading Florida. He was joined by Texas teacher Sean Duffy and Frantz Placide, who grew up in inner-city Miami and credited Bush's school-choice efforts for being able to attend a private school.
Bush said children at many schools do not have a chance to get a quality education. He said teachers and students need higher standards, and that school choice programs should give families options about where they enroll children.
"Mitt gets it,'' Bush said. "He believes parents --- regardless of zip code or income --- should be able to send their child to the school that fits them best."
Bush faced heavy opposition from the Florida Education Association while in office, particularly when he ran for re-election in 2002 and the union backed Democrat Bill McBride. Many teachers argue that choice programs, such as private-school vouchers, drain money that otherwise could go to public schools.
The former governor said Thursday that he knows it's difficult to take on politically powerful unions, but he described people who say they support strong schools but don't back school choice as "masters of delay and deferral."
The Florida Supreme Court struck down a Bush program that provided vouchers to children who attended low-performing public schools. But Bush and Republican leaders have moved forward with other choice efforts, including a program that offers tax credits to corporations that help pay for low-income students to attend private schools.
Placide did not detail the program that helped him, but he said he was able to attend Archbishop Curley Notre Dame in Miami and later graduated from Wagner College.
"Gov. Bush's school choice program gave me the chance to achieve academic success, in the school that was the best fit for me,'' Placide said.
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