Bush embraces same state-based tuition-free plan as Obama

Jeb Bush threw his support behind a Tennessee plan to give two years of community college to students tuition-free on Monday, the same plan that helped inspire President Obama’s similar proposal earlier this year. 

“We’ve got to make sure that we can get a four-year degree done in four years,” the presidential hopeful said in answer to a question Monday during a press conference after a meeting on the U.S.-Mexican border in Texas. 

“There are great programs around the country — one of the ones I most admire is a project called Tennessee Promise, where every student that participates gets their community college education, at least for the first two years, debt free, free of tuition.” 

Bush added that universities need to “have skin in the game” when it comes to holding up the promise of a four-year degree.

“If kids can't graduate with a four-year degree in four years, there ought to be some payback to their families or to them, or there's got to be some support for the loans they’ve taken out,” he said. 

Tennessee Promise is one of the programs that the White House said “inspired” Obama’s recent plan to offer two years of tuition-free community college to all students that meet certain qualifications. The Tennessee program is funded by the state lottery and the first wave of “Promise” students are starting school this academic year. 

Obama announced his plan in January in Tennessee, where he applauded the state for its program. 

“Now, the good news is, you already do something like this in Tennessee. You call it Tennessee Promise,” he said.

“We thought why not just build on what works? So we’re going to call it ‘America’s College Promise.’” 

The president would fund his plan through $320 billion in tax hikes.  

But Bush has come out against Obama’s federal plan, panning it at a New Hampshire speech as “political [and] poll driven,” according to USA Today.

"Governor Bush supports a state’s right to innovate and find solutions to our education challenges, whether it be in K-12 or in the higher education community," Allie Brandenburger, a Bush spokeswoman told The Hill in a statement.

The former Florida governor has been a longtime education advocate and launched the Foundation for Excellence in Education in 2008. He’s a vocal supporter of voucher programs and pitched “total voucherization” during an education summit last week.

But his education stance has sometimes provoked the ire of the Republican base. He’s walked back his support for Common Core standards, instead calling for increased standards without government involvement. But that hasn’t stopped repeated questions on the controversial standards, seen by many conservatives as a federal overreach into local education, on the campaign trail.

—This story was updated at 7:21 p.m.