Florida Celebrates 15 Years of A+ Plan for Education

By: Allison Nielsen | Posted: July 3, 2014 3:55 AM
Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush

Fifteen years ago, former Gov. Jeb Bush stood in front of the United States Congress in Washington, D.C. It was Bush’s first time speaking in front of the committee as governor of the Sunshine State, and he was there to talk about the changes Florida had made in its education system.

When Bush took office, Florida’s high school graduation rate was an abysmal 52 percent and half of the state’s fourth-graders couldn’t read at their own grade level.

Bush and former Commissioner of Education Frank Brogan concocted a new plan to turn Florida’s education around. They called it the “A+ Plan for Education,” and it set the precedent for many of the standards still in place in Florida’s schools today.

The FCAT was expanded. Schools began receiving A-F grades based on their performance on standardized tests. High-performing schools were rewarded for their accomplishments and low-performing schools were given extra help to get them back on the right track.

In addition, students placed in chronically failing schools were given the choice to head to better schools -- public or private -- so they could get the best education possible.

Tracey Richardson-James was present when the A+ Plan for Education was signed in 1999. With an 8-year-old daughter of her own, Richardson-James was troubled by the options she had for her daughter’s schooling.

“The neighborhood I came from, the school in that neighborhood wasn’t too good,” she told Sunshine State News. “I moved into another neighborhood ... and that school also had issues. I was kind of at the point where I wanted to know what other options were out there.”

Richardson-James said she couldn’t afford to send her daughter to a higher-performing private school. She felt trapped.

But when the A+ Plan for Education was signed, Richardson-James’ daughter had the opportunity to attend a different school, much to her mother’s relief.

“It was great to have her in an environment where I felt there was discipline, there was structure,” said Richardson-James.

Eventually Richardson-James’ daughter graduated high school in 2010. She’s currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Richardson-James said the A+ education plan opened a lot of doors for her as a parent and for her daughter as a student.

“I think it opened up that line of communication [between parents and schools]. People were talking about it. It created other options,” she said.

The plan has gathered significant praise over the last 15 years. Since 1999, Florida’s high school graduation has risen to 75 percent -- a number still 5 points below the national graduation rate, but still a 25-point improvement from 1998. Many states point to Florida for its successes as being the only state to narrow the achievement gap between white and African-American students.

Yet, even with all the feel-good accomplishments of Florida’s education system, the former governor who led the crusade for the state reform says there’s still work to be done.

“Reforms based on strong accountability and parental choice have produced tremendous results for Florida students, but we still have further to go,” said Jeb Bush. “We must continue challenging the status quo to ensure all students enjoy the same right and access to a quality education.”

"There is so much more work to be done. We've seen improvements as a whole ... but obviously we have much further to go," said Allison Aubuchon, deputy communications director for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. "The choices have highlighted the fact that not every school is the best fit for every student ... and we hope that by policies like school choice, we'll continue to do our best to give every child a chance at success."

Richardson-James now has a grandson, whom she hopes will be given the same opportunities afforded to her daughter.

“My hope is basically the same as I had for his mother, for him to get a good foundation for his education,” she said. "I'm very grateful for the opportunity my daughter had and how it has positively affected my family."

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen

Comments (10)

Richard Riker
12:16PM JUL 3RD 2014
Now Jeb is showing his true objective by supporting Common Core.
Federally mandated standards , which take all the control of education away from states and parents and gives it to the federal government. Common Core does nothing other than brainwash and dumb down our children. Way to go Jeb.
Yea! All In The Family
3:26PM JUL 3RD 2014
You are so right! Not only "his true objective" but the family's generation's long objectives. The thorn does not fall fare from the Bush.

We see your name on a lot of Lake County issues and have for years. If you are watching your local government it has long been directly controlled by Jeb Bush and him minions. In 2006 Jeb Bush installed Gary Borders sheriff knowing full well Border had a life long history of perversion. Jeb Bush endorsed your former State Senator Carey Baker for Property Apprasier with four words of TEXT to Baker "I Will Support You" which Carey Baker took and turned into tow full paragraph's of what he perceived Jeb Bush wanted to say about him.

Your Tax Collector Bob McKee and his Villages connections run the FBI out of Tavares in 2010 with the tails between their legs. Two Agents had reportedly told several people they had enough criminal evidence against several of your elected officials and millions of your tax dollars had been stolen - they even told four long time Lake Sheriff's employee's they had enough evidence to arrest your sheriff for having male jail inmates delivered to his office for sex. One phone call to the Villages bigshots and the FBI vanished leaving your Lake government criminals to finish the job of stealing you Lake taxpayers to the broke status. they should have you guys about picked to the bone like the buzzards they are by now!
Joe Snodgrass
8:52AM JUL 3RD 2014
15 years to improve 23 points not 25, great statistics, if life was a baseball game with batting averages. Unacceptable when one is talking about poor middle class people's lives and opportunities. Achievements and accomplishments come from using education and skills to adapt in order to, not just stay even, but become better than we were yesterday. It used to be called the American Dream. Destroyed by Wall Street by taking away the opportunities to acquire fair living wage jobs. NAFTA and soon to be TPP will continue to increase the wealth of the top percentage of people, while putting millions into low and under paid jobs. But the likes of Walmart and other purveyors of cheap foreign made goods, continue to increase and grow their wealth. Education used to level the playing field for the less fortunate people and provide opportunity, now it's just more profit for the already wealthy. Develop education systems that provides opportunities based on family values and quality of life issues. If the top percentage think the system is fine the way it is, they need to walk a mile in a poor persons shoes and see the reality of the current non working system. The system is not broken it's working exactly the way it was designed... We need to let common sense working people build the system not number and statistic driven people. Yes there are always going to be poor people, but does that mean they are forced to stay there because of someone else's greed?
All In The Family
12:06PM JUL 3RD 2014
Because of George W. Bush’s close ties to Texas and connections with the oil industry, the Bush family is often perceived as a bunch of oil tycoons.
In reality, however, the oil industry is just one of many in which the Bush family displayed their financial expertise. The family tradition, which continues to this day, was founded upon the pursuit of riches through investment banking and wartime business ventures.
This is why the family has had a hand in businesses from Halliburton to Merrill Lynch, and also has a history of owning major league sports teams.
Samuel P. Bush, one of the two patriarchs of the dynasty, had extensive experience as a banking executive.
Samuel Bush served on the Board of Directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and helped found the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. During WWI, he served as Chief of the Ordnance, Small Arms and Ammunition division on the War Industries Board, where wartime business ventures coupled with his connections to the Rockefeller family laid the foundation for the family's fortune.

Then along come his son Prescott Bush….

And His grandson George Herbert Walker Bush…………..

And his great grandsons, George Walker Bush, John Ellis (JEB) Bush, Neil (Silverado Saving and Loans bankrupted the US Savings and Loans) Now Neil, his mother and father GHW and Barbara Bush, their Saudi Prince friends and a Russian mobster friend Own IGNITE LEARNING! – designed to take advantage of GW’s NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT and taking advantage of it they are. Then they have Marvin Bush. GHW Bush says Bill Clinton his his adopted son. And don't forget brother Barack Obama!

So, it’s not Archie Bunker still, but it’s all in the family!
Bush led Republicans have no ethics
7:19AM JUL 3RD 2014
COMMON CORE Education Without Representation

Florida Mother of Six Fights “The Machine” of Jeb Bush and Bill Gates, FLA Legislature

“All these groups want accountability from our children but I demand accountability from them“ – Debbie Higginbotham, Florida mother

In every state across this great nation, parents, grandparents, and great Americans are speaking out loudly against Common Core and the Race to The Top Agreement (RTTT). And they should!
Each state has their grassroots groups and coalitions marching to their state capitols demanding answers on why their children have been sold to the Federal Government.

When I started this personal crusade to save my children’s educational freedoms about a year ago, I had no idea what I was going to encounter. I am just a mom who is enjoying raising six beautiful children with no political aspirations nor experience in debating these political cronies.

Every state has their mountains to climb when fighting CC and ridding their state of these horrible standards and mandates all enclosed with the RTTT. Here in Florida most of our battles are the same, but we are fighting a white elephant in the room as well. That white elephant is Jeb Bush and his foundations and other groups he has “founded” that are promoting “higher standards”.

Many refer to Jeb Bush and his cronies as “The Machine”.
When originally talking with school board members and legislators– and being told that Common Core was here to stay and there was nothing I could do about it, I knew something was not right with this whole thing.
Some legislators were giving me the smile and wink –and I thought I was making progress.

It was pleasing to know, at the time, that my elected officials were taking my complaints to heart because this was going to affect their children as well.

I quickly started doing more research and that old saying of “follow the money trail” came to light so true and it wasn’t just looking into Bill Gates anymore, but looking into Jeb Bush and his involvement with Gates and his continuing efforts to alter Florida’s education system for his own political gain and a bid for the White House.

Those winks and nods were just that, empty promises.

The more I was learning, it soon disgusted me. How can a man with no elected accountability from voters have such an influence on my children’s education?

Everywhere I turned I was hitting the same roadblocks and that was “The Machine”. It wasn’t only Jeb Bush but I came to find out through more digging that Jeb Bush has pretty much bought and paid for almost all of the Republican legislators in office right now, including Governor Rick Scott. Even Lobbyists have a loyalty to him.

Jim Horne is the prominent one.

Back in August, Rick Scott called for an education summit to make it look like he was making an effort of hearing all sides of the education issues. He never showed up at the summit he’d called for, but then decided to further his political career and make decisions about Florida’s children over a bottle of an alcoholic beverage and dinner
on a Thursday evening with “The Machine” and its allies, Chair of the State Board of Education Gary Chartrand, and Republican Rep John Thrasher.

Most recently, Governor Rick Scott issued an Executive Order to withdraw from PARCC and resign from being the lead state.

He also stated he would hold three district hearings to give parents and experts opportunities to voice their concerns on specific standards within Common Core. Great move on the Governor’s part, but the response from all of us was that this is just smoke and mirrors. Scott was only trying to pacify us, the parents, while still keeping “The Machine” happy.
When will this man stand on his own two feet? Even more disturbing is in the last few days our Education Commissioner, Pam Stewart, has come out and said that even though the hearings will be held, it will not change any outcome continuing with the implementation of Common Core. [Pam Stewart was reinstalled Ed Comish after their man Tony Bennett got caught fixing testing scores for Christel DeHaan who has given more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett.]

REALLY! That just goes to prove it is all smoke and mirrors.
Everywhere we turn this white elephant shows up uninvited! There are little worker bees “The Machine” spreads throughout the state to try and shut us down. They make it their life each day to seek out moms like me and try to prove that we are misinformed about Common Core and how Florida needs higher standards and accountability from our children and teachers.

ACCOUNTABILITY!? Who is holding “The Machine” accountable?
Who is holding the NGA and CCSSO accountable? Let’s not forget ACHIEVE!

All these groups want accountability from our children but I demand accountability from them and what they believe to be best for my children. They have nothing better to do than come after moms and dads like me and call us misinformed! Only my husband and I, the true authorities, know what is best for our children.

“The Machine” has even promoted radio ads to be played boasting the standards on how they will give our children higher learning. The group “Conservatives For Higher Standards” was also involved with making and promoting the ad. We know those two have close ties to each other. The ad also touts making getting into college a fair playing field, no rote memorization, helping kids learn more, and states can opt in or our of the standards along with the lie that there are no DC mandates.

We are working on a counter ad to make sure our voices are right with theirs, and we are not backing down.
The Saudi Connection to our Muslim Education movement
6:48AM JUL 3RD 2014
Partial list of Florida Muslim School Organizations: Grace Institute for Educational Research and Resources, a.k.a. Charter Educational Services & Resources
• Discovery Academy of Science
• Orlando Science Middle/High School
• Orlando Science Elementary School
• New Springs Middle School, Tampa
• River City Science Academy, Middle School, Jacksonville
• River City Science Academy Innovation
• Stars Middle School, Tallahassee

Now another shell corporation called “Charter Educational Services & Resources is managing the Florida Gulen Charter Schools.
Florida Schools: Orlando Science Middle/High Charter School, River City Science Academy, Sweetwater Branch Academy, Stars Middle School, New Springs Middle School.
Evidence of affiliation with Gulen Movement

These are publicly-funded charter schools run by the Gulen Movement in Florida, all members of Grace Schools, a.k.a. Grace Institute. The Fulton Science Academyelementary, middle and high schools, Gulen charter schools in Georgia, are the only other Grace members. Similar to all other Gulen charter schools, Grace schools exploit the H-1B visa system to hire personnel.

The affiliation of these schools with the Gulen Movement is shown by their participation in the Turkish Olympiads, the ISWEEEP science fair in Houston, and the Jacksonville and Orlando Turkish Festivals, all events run by the Gulen Movement.

The schools also have Turkish clubs and Turkish Olympiad Camps. The website of the Turkish Cultural Center of Tampa Bay, a Gulenist organization, states that "Turkish has been offered as an elective for middle and high school students in the State curriculum of Florida and Georgia in the last two years with the efforts of these centers." The centers referred to here are Turkish Cultural Centers in the Southeast run by the Gulen Movement. This shows how the Gulen Movement is influencing school curricula as part of its efforts to promote the Turkish language and Turkish nationalism (e.g., students participating in the Turkish Language Olympics are provided with elaborate Turkish costumes to wear). Note that Ethnologue lists Turkish as 21st in its list of languages ranked by number of speakers - to give some examples, Bengali, Vietnamese and Korean all rank higher.

Tax records from 2008 show that the "Sema Education Agency" loaned $520,000 to New Springs Charter School. Sema is a Gulenist organization that also loaned a substantial amount to Fulton Science Academy and later forgave half the amount. The connections of Sema to the Gulen Movement are documented!

Tax records from 2008 show that board members of Neosprings, Inc dba Sweetwater Branch Academy, the charter holder for Sweetwater, loaned the school a principal amount of $28,000, but the school was required to pay back $53,000. Given that the middle/high school has only existed since 2008, this implies an exceptionally high rate of return on the loan.

A school field trip to Atlanta included a visit to the Istanbul Center, a Gulenist organization that promotes Turkish culture and sponsors Gulenist Turkey trips.

Students and parents at Orlando Science Middle/High School are offered Gulenist trips to Turkey at discounted prices. Students get an additional 20% discount, from the Orlando Turkish Cultural Center, a Gulenist organization, if their "GPA is over 85."

Students from Orlando Science Middle/High School participated in a summer program in Turkey that included activities at a private Gulen school in the Turkish town of Tavsanli. Students from Fulton Science Academy, a Gulen charter school in Georgia, also studied at this school as part of a summer program. The school (Ozel Basari Ilkogretim Okulu) was found at one point to have a Facebook page with references to Gulen and multiple religious references. A group of 16 Orlando Science students, accompanied by two Gulenist teachers, also studied at the Ozel Birgivi Koleji, another private Gulen school in Turkey.

Further evidence can be found through the following individuals' multiple affiliations (both past and present) with different Gulenist schools and/or organizations.
President George W,. Bush appoints Gary Grappo U.S. Ambassador to Oman
Term of Appointment: 03/06/2006 to 06/01/2009
Gary Grappo was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman by Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice on March 6, 2006. He is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service.
From November of 2003 to November of 2005, Mr. Grappo was Deputy Chief of Mission and Minister Counselor of the United States Mission in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which includes the Embassy and Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran. Prior to his assignment to Riyadh, he served as Director of the Office of Regional and Economic Affairs in the Bureau of Near East Affairs of the Department of State in Washington, DC. During that assignment, he played a leading role in the establishment and implementation of the Middle East Partnership Initiative.
Mr. Grappo joined the Department in 1985. His first assignment was in Managua, Nicaragua as a consular and political officer. He was subsequently posted to Lisbon, Portugal as an Economic Officer. He then served in Washington DC, where he worked as an Economic and Commercial Office in the Office of Soviet Union Affairs and the Office of Newly Independent States, and as a Special Assistant to the Counselor of the Department and Under Secretary for Global Affairs. Following two years of Arabic language studies, he was posted to Amman, Jordan as Counselor for Economic and Commercial Affairs. After his tour in Jordan, Mr. Grappo served for three years as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Muscat, Oman.
Mr. Grappo has received several Department awards, including three Superior Honor Awards--for his work on food relief and economic recovery during and after the fall of the Soviet Union, for his leadership role in the 1995 Amman Middle East North Africa Economic Summit, and for his work in the U.S. Government’s campaign against terrorism financing in the Middle East--as well as several group and individual Meritorious Honor Awards.
Before joining the State Department, Mr. Grappo worked with Bank of America and Castle & Cook (Dole Co.) and served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force.
Mr. Grappo holds a BS in Mathematics from the U. S. Air Force Academy, MS in Geodesy and Survey Engineering from Purdue University, and an MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
The Saudi Connection to our Muslim Education movement
6:53AM JUL 3RD 2014
A Conversation With Gary Grappo

We recently provided remarks that Deputy Chief of Mission, or DCM, Mr. Gary Grappo, second in command at the US Embassy in Riyadh, presented at the Chicago stop of the 2005 Saudi Trade Mission. He told the American business people assembled there about the booming Saudi economy and the state of the Saudi-US relationship. Later that day, May 16, 2005, he took time to talk with SUSRIS about his optimistic assessment of the Saudi business environment and the range of issues dominating discussions of the Saudi-US relationship.

In the first installment of Mr. Grappo's interview with SUSRIS, he discusses the trade mission and the business environment as well as economic and political issues, world energy security, the military to military relationship, the joint war on global terrorism and more.

Mr. Gary Grappo
Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy Riyadh

SUSRIS: Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule today to talk with us about US-Saudi relations. You're here in Chicago to speak to American business people who are meeting the Saudi trade delegates. What should people know about the meetings and about the business relationship?

Gary Grappo: Certainly in recent memory this is the largest Saudi trade delegation to come to the United States. I think it was by serendipity the timing of the visit was just a few weeks after President Bush and Crown Prince Abdullah met in Texas. The trade delegation has capitalized on the positive atmosphere created by the Crawford meeting. The timing is good particularly in view of not only that meeting but also what's happening in the Saudi economy.

I said this morning in my remarks that the Saudi economy is booming and it truly is. Obviously it is fueled by what's happening in the energy sector these days. However, the Saudi's have a very ambitious program for reinvesting that money in the range of sectors that we heard about earlier today.

SUSRIS: How do you see the strength of the business-to-business relationship?

Gary Grappo: Like the broader relationship, it has gone through a rough patch since 9-11. There's a lot of apprehension and anxiety on both sides in view of what happened and the subsequent responses.
However, if you look at the things governments as well as businesses have done to re-invigorate the relationship I think you'll see it will return to a more predictable situation, something the two sides are comfortable with.

You should remember that the Saudis feel extremely comfortable doing business with Americans and in the United States. Many of them studied in the United States. They visit here often, either for personal reasons or business reasons. Its just a place where they feel comfortable doing business.

I believe the intention of this trade delegation was to come to the States, to the five cities that they are visiting, and communicate to the American business community that there is still a great need, a great desire on the part of the Saudis to do business with us but also to educate us about the opportunities.
It truly is a booming economy right now. There are extraordinary opportunities -- probably akin to what it was in the early- to mid-seventies, and the Saudis want us to be there.

Americans should also know that we're not the only ones who can capitalize on the boom. The Europeans are far more aggressive today in the Saudi market then they were back in the seventies. There are other players as well. The Chinese and the Indians are extremely active in Saudi Arabia right now -- very aggressively looking for new business.

We don't quite have the open field we had back in the 1970s. But we do have an advantage in that the Saudis are very much accustomed to doing business with us, feel comfortable with us, like American products and services and want to continue that.

SUSRIS: What's the boom attributed to?

Gary Grappo: Oil. It's no secret the Saudi economy rides on the price of oil. There is a strong effort to diversify the economy and they're doing a reasonably good job at it. But, for the foreseeable future it's going to be oil that is driving the Saudi economy.

That's not to say that there aren't tremendous opportunities in many other sectors: healthcare, construction, transportation, petrochemicals -- the downstream opportunities, manufacturing, and information technology, for example. All of these areas are experiencing rapid growth. They obviously pale in comparison to the oil sector. Nevertheless for US businesses there are great opportunities and the Saudis want to see those areas developed.

SUSRIS: How have economic reforms -- regulatory reform, the General Investment Authority, pursuit of WTO accession, privatization, diversification, and so forth -- shaped the current environment?
Gary Grappo: Those have all been very positive in terms of the direction of the economy. But the good news in all of that for Americans wanting to do business in Saudi Arabia is that it is a better place to do business.It's more secure, more predictable. US businesses across the spectrum of sectors ought to feel very encouraged by what is happening whether it's privatization or it's the passage of new laws.
All of these are very positive signs and should make doing business in the kingdom even better than it has been in the past.

SUSRIS: WTO accession. This year?

Gary Grappo: I think they've been able to tackle some of the major issues. What is different now is that there has been a real commitment over the last twelve to eighteen months on the part of the Saudi government to make it happen.

We've always wanted to get it done, but to be quite honest the Saudi interest in it has ebbed and flowed. We had a very intense round of negotiations recently with the Saudis in Washington. There was considerable headway and so the statement that we've made about trying to get it finished before the end of the year is probably going to be a good one. We certainly hope that's the case. It's the intention of both sides.

SUSRIS: Let's talk about the demand for oil. The Crawford summit was called a milestone in the relationship by some observers. However, it seemed the media was almost hysterical that the measure of a successful meeting was having price relief at the gas pump. How should Americans look at the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia in terms of the Saudi ability to control gasoline prices?

Gary Grappo: If you look at the current production and export levels you'll see the Saudis are very close to capacity -- about nine and a half million barrels a day on average. They can bump that up gradually over the course of the next couple of years without making a significant investment. But for the most part what is currently remaining of the 1-1.3 million barrels of capacity they have is very heavy fuels. Many of our refineries and other facilities can't really take those grades. However, there are buyers for them, so they are, in fact, pretty close to capacity already.

The Saudis have announced a major investment program to increase oil production capacity within the next two to five years, up to about twelve million barrels a day and in the long term to fifteen million barrels a day.

To be quite honest, I'm not sure that Saudi Arabia today has the control over the oil markets that it may have had say five, ten, fifteen years ago. They certainly have the ability to raise the price of oil, by turning off their spigots. They are the largest producer in the world by far and if they were to cut off production -- which I can't imagine they would want to do since they would be harming themselves -- they could certainly raise the price of oil.

However, they're not in a position to lower the price of oil, not now. As I said, at nine and half million barrels a day they're pretty much close to capacity. Which means that there's no way they can lower the price of oil by pumping more at the present time.

SUSRIS: So Saudi Arabia is not the cause or cure for America's energy cost troubles?

Gary Grappo: When it comes to the price of oil, not anymore. There may have been grounds for that 10 or 20 years ago but today they are pumping at capacity. I think if they had more to pump they would. Why wouldn't you when you can make $50 a barrel? They are just not in a position anymore to reduce the price of oil.

SUSRIS: Should Americans be worried about the security of oil supplies in Saudi Arabia. Are American diplomats in the kingdom concerned?

Gary Grappo: Certainly we are very interested in it. We have discussions fairly regularly with the Saudis and Saudi Aramco about security they provide oil facilities. This is their primary source of income and will be for the foreseeable future and they're not going to risk that by shortchanging security at their facilities, whether it is at the wells, the pipelines, processing facilities or the terminals.
The Saudis invested significant amounts of money and resources into protecting those facilities and I think they will continue to do that. It's obviously the most important resource, most important asset that they have and they understand the need to protect it. So we talk about ways they can do that.

SUSRIS: When Saddam Hussein's regime fell in Iraq there was no longer a need for Operation Southern Watch, the enforcement of the No-Fly Zone in Iraq, and so the forces operating from the Kingdom were redeployed elsewhere. What is the status of the Saudi-US military to military relationship?

Gary Grappo: Early in 2003 we withdrew all US combat forces from Saudi Arabia, which in the buildup to the war in Iraq had reached over 15,000. All of those troops are gone now.
What we have left are two modest size military training missions. One for the army, the navy and the air force under the Ministry of Defense and Aviation and one for the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

Those are continuing programs -- they have been around over 40 years. It is another example of the very close relationship we have had when it comes to regional security and cooperation between our armed forces. There was some reference to it in President Bush's comments in Crawford last month -- about its importance.

That's going to continue. The Saudis very much want to maintain that relationship with both the Ministry of Defense and the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

SUSRIS: The US government has kept quiet on the issue of Saudi support during the opening phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. However, there have been some reports that suggest everything the US asked for to support the effort was provided.

Gary Grappo: Yes, they were. The Saudis were one of the most forthcoming countries in the region. As I mentioned earlier we had upwards of 15,000 troops, mostly US Air Force units at the Prince Sultan Air Base and a few other facilities. We were given landing rights, over flight clearances, fuels were provided to our armed forces, and the list goes on and on and on.

The Saudis have always been stalwart supporters of America and our efforts to maintain security in the region. That, by the way, continues.

The other thing that is important, especially for American taxpayers to understand, is that we have a special relationship when it comes to the training cooperation I mentioned before. Our training missions to the Ministry of Defense and Aviation and the National Guard are all paid for by Saudi Arabia, including the salaries of our military personnel. Very little is paid for by American taxpayer dollars.

SUSRIS: Last year there was an effort in Congress to reduce the token amount of aid that allowed Saudi military officers to come to the US for military education and training. The provision that existed opened the door for better cooperation between militaries, not necessarily because the Saudis needed us to pay for something. It was a small amount of money involved. Yet, some in Congress wanted to use the issue as a way to punish the Saudis.

Gary Grappo: The principle condition on that issue, the new condition that was applied, had to do with combating terrorism and it was pretty easy to certify Saudi Arabia given what they have done since May of 2003.

We give the absolute minimum to Saudi Arabia for this military training -- $25,000. But that allows the Saudis to access all the other military training opportunities in the United States at a reduced tuition. This is an opportunity to encourage more Saudis to participate in US based training.
What we want to do is promote the relationship between the US armed forces and the Saudi armed forces. It's a long-standing relationship and it has paid great dividends to both sides. The United States has benefited in terms of our familiarity, our special relationship, our friendship with the senior leadership in the Armed Forces.

Virtually every senior officer in the National Guard and the Armed Forces has been trained in some fashion in the United States, whether it's pilot training, senior infantry officer training, war colleges and so forth. That has created a special relationship between our two countries and it's in our interest and in their interest to see that continue.

SUSRIS: What is your assessment of the bilateral relationship in the war on terror?
Gary Grappo: May 2003 was a watershed for Saudi Arabia. There had been modest cooperation prior to that in terms of sharing information and so forth. May 2003 dramatically changed it. Since that time the cooperation has truly been extraordinary. I don't think a day goes by when US officials and Saudi security officials don't sit down and talk about the war on terrorism and what we can do to prosecute the war. I will have to say you cannot compare today to before May 2003. It just wasn't quite there.

On the terrorism financing side we have made some extraordinary strides since May 2003 that we were not able to accomplish before then. So it was a watershed. It was almost their 9-11.
If you recall, on May 12 terrorists attacked three residential, principally Western, compounds killing Saudis, Americans and other foreigners. Since that time there has been a very strong relationship between the two sides. We have been able to make great progress because of that cooperation.

SUSRIS: All but 3 of the 26 terrorists on the Saudi's most wanted list have been captured or killed. What's the assessment of the current domestic security situation?

Gary Grappo: Al-Qaeda forces in the kingdom have definitely been put on their back foot by the Saudi security forces. I should mention that the Saudi security forces have gotten much more proficient and competent in going after them in terms of information collection, being able to identify these guys, track them down, carry out raids, investigate incidents, all of these things.
So the capabilities of the Saudi security forces are much improved over what they were before May 2003. The Saudi efforts since then have resulted in almost decapitating the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization or network in Saudi Arabia. Almost every leader they put forward has been taken out by the Saudis. In addition they have lost a lot of their technical capabilities -- the expert bomb makers, tacticians, recruiters and so forth. The Saudis have also been able to take out a lot of the propagandists and ideologues who are out spreading this venomous talk about hatred and intolerance.

So they have really put these terrorists on their back foot. However, and you only need reference some of the recent speeches by the Crown Prince, they are not out of the woods yet. They know that. They know that this could be a generational effort in terms of finding these individuals and rooting them out.
Moreover, its also extremely important that they root out the ideology that these individuals, that these terrorists profess. In Saudi Arabia they call it "Takfirism" which is from the Arabic root of "Kafir" or non-believer.

These Takfirists have basically taken it upon themselves to choose who's a good Muslim and who's not, who is a Muslim and who is not, and in their ideology they will use this to justify killing those who don't agree with them, who don't adhere to their very distorted version of Islam.
This is very similar to what the Bolsheviks did in the early part of the 20th century. In that case using it as kind of a political argument to justify mass murder. The Saudis have recognized it. They have started a public education campaign to isolate this insidious movement, to ensure that it does not take root in Saudi Arabia. That's going to take some time. It's going to take education. It's going to take a campaign ensuring that the Saudi public, in general, understands how destructive this kind of attitude, or ideology is to the country.

There are still terrorists in the Kingdom. They are incredibly vicious. They can be very, very dangerous. They are not afraid to die, in fact they want to die, and when you have someone with that kind of attitude, it presents a very real danger to society. The Saudis know it will take a while before they can root out every single one of those individuals. However, if you look at where they are today in terms of the terrorists that have been captured or killed they have made tremendous progress.

SUSRIS: The security situation has led to the departure of US government dependents, issuance of travel warnings and so forth. Is that likely to change?

Gary Grappo: The travel warning is under review as we speak. It was about one year ago right after the attack in Yanbu on the west coast of Saudi Arabia on May 1st that we issued a travel warning urging Americans to leave Saudi Arabia.

We're reviewing that in light of the significant progress that has been made in the last year. With respect to official Americans, currently our embassy and two consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran are what we term "unaccompanied posts." There are only essential personnel -- government employees, no families.

I hope this can change but it will take a while. We won't return our families to the kingdom until we feel it is safe for them to return. We will just have to wait and see how things develop.

NEXT: Education, political and social reform; and more on the nature of the Saudi-US relationship.

Gary A. Grappo is Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh.
C Breeze
6:31AM JUL 3RD 2014
This article sounds all "Mary Poppins-ish"...BUT, that doesn't mean that Jeb Bush should be the elected "Pied Piper" to take this country 'down the "Common Core" road'. Education must be left to the State's direction (and in reality, that's exactly where Jeb was the "SOLO VIRTUOSO" regarding Florida's education system (It was, after all, an "empty slate" at the time and therefore EASY to improve. But America has much bigger problems at this point in time: TOO big for a 'progressive' "Jeb Bush solution". Arne Duncan's Federal Education Dept must be abolished and the education process itself returned to the States and the wisdom and scrutiny of students' parents. [STAY OUT OF THE BUSHES FOLKS...WE HAVE BEEN LOST THERE TWICE BEFORE ALREADY !]
C Breeze
6:31AM JUL 3RD 2014
This article sounds all "Mary Poppins-ish"...BUT, that doesn't mean that Jeb Bush should be the elected "Pied Piper" to take this country 'down the "Common Core" road'. Education must be left to the State's direction (and in reality, that's exactly where Jeb was the "SOLO VIRTUOSO" regarding Florida's education system (It was, after all, an "empty slate" at the time and therefore EASY to improve. But America has much bigger problems at this point in time: TOO big for a 'progressive' "Jeb Bush solution". Arne Duncan's Federal Education Dept must be abolished and the education process itself returned to the States and the wisdom and scrutiny of students' parents. [STAY OUT OF THE BUSHES FOLKS...WE HAVE BEEN LOST THERE TWICE BEFORE ALREADY !]
Building the Machine
6:30AM JUL 3RD 2014
Building the Machine: The New Common Core Documentary That Will Start Arguments on Both Sides of the Debate

The nonprofit Home School Legal Defense Association is out with a short documentary about the development of the Common Core educational standards.

The nearly 40-minute “Building the Machine” traces the history of Common Core, particularly the secrecy in which the standards were developed. Forty-four states, as well as the District of Columbia, have adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative that advocates say prepares students for achievement in life, and that detractors say amounts to a national curriculum because of the federal grants tied to its adoption. Jim Stergios, executive director of the Massachusetts-based Pioneer Institute, a research organization that has been active in opposing Common Core, said there were no public debates or hearings about the curriculum, as was common when states created similar standards in the past. Stergios also said he believes Common Core is harmful to family structures.

“It takes power from the parents,” he said, “it de-incentives parents from a deep and abiding interest in a child’s education.”
Michael Petrilli, executive vice president at the Fordham Institute, an education think tank, denied that Common Core was built secretly, and said all of its standards are available online.

The documentary showcases President Barack Obama touting his Race to the Top federal funding initiative, and former Republican Govs. Jeb Bush (Fla.) and Mike Huckabee (Ark.) endorsing Common Core standards. “Building the Machine” also delves into Common Core’s corporate connection, including how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave millions of dollars in grants to help push the program. Among the recipients of the reported $200 million the Gates Foundation donated in 2013 alone are the U.S. Department of Education, the National Governors Association, the Fordham Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The documentary features interviews with Sandra Stotsky, formerly of the Massachusetts Department of Education, and Jim Milgram, a professor at Stanford University. Both were part of the 30-member Common Core validation committee, yet neither said they approved of the standards. They spoke about secrecy issues around Common Core as well as the problems with the standards.

“I think Common Core is more damaging than beneficial in English language arts,” Stotsky said. “It’s diminishing literary study in the English curriculum.”

Milgram, who has taught at Stanford for more than 40 years, voice his opposition this way: “The result is … the ‘dumbing down’ of a system that is the only system that is giving us the long term economic support we require.”

May 20, 2014 - Florida lawmaker slams Common Core, claims homosexual agenda
Florida lawmaker Charles Van Zant has expressed opposition to the hiring of a company to produce a new state test based on Common Core Standards.

In March, The Florida Deportment of Education hired the American Institute of Research, or AIR, to produce a new test based on Common Core Standards at a cost of $220 million.

Rep. Charles Van Zant has spoken out against Common Core, and expressed opposition to the hiring of AIR.

According to the liberal blog Think Progress, days after the nonprofit research group was selected, Van Zant voiced a claim against AIR at an education conference in Orlando.

"Click the link to what they’re doing with youth, and you will see what their agenda really is," he told the audience. "They are promoting as hard as they can any youth that is interested in the LGBT agenda."

The video was originally posted on YouTube in April. In it, Van Zant references a page on the AIR website that serves as a guide for educators regarding gay and lesbian youth, called 2-S.

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