WATCH HIGHLIGHTS VIDEO HERE.VIEW EVENT PHOTOS HERE.WATCH FULL VIDEO HERE.FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                           
March 24, 2015CONTACT:
Valerie Wickboldt
(850) 386-3131
Florida CFO Jeff Atwater, Commissioner Adam Putnam and Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard/FOX News Headline the 2015 JMI Annual Dinner;
New JMI Education Policy Center Announced
~ Hundreds gather in Tallahassee for “The Florida Story: A Lasting Legacy” hosted by The James Madison Institute; JMI Announced Launch of the J. Stanley Marshall Center for Educational Options ~
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Hundreds gathered in Tallahassee for The James Madison Institute’s 2015 Annual Dinner Tuesday, March 24, 2015. The evening event titled “The Florida Story: A Lasting Legacy” featured members of the Florida Cabinet, as well as Stephen Hayes, senior editor at The Weekly Standard and a FOX News contributor.“Throughout the night you’ll hear a lot about JMI and we hope you walk away knowing we’re not just a think tank – but a do tank,” said Dr. Bob McClure, JMI president and CEO in his welcome. “And what we do encompasses four goals here at the Institute: Empower Floridians through education; equip individual citizens with the tools to carry forth the torch of freedom; educate policymakers and work with them to establish the best policy decisions for all Floridians; and engage the culture, especially within the next generation, because we believe there is a universal hunger for freedom regardless of political party or preference.”Dr. McClure’s open remarks were followed by his introduction of Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam who then gave his perspective of “The Florida Story” and those who embody it. He told audience members that they should fiercely protect how far Florida has come. He noted that as the Florida story continues to unfold it is up to all Floridians to determine whether our state will commit to the long-term solutions for improvement or accept the short-term fixes that have caused economic problems in other states.“I believe in the Florida story and I believe in the future of our state,” said Commissioner Putnam. “Thanks to organizations like JMI, we will continue to be on the high road for free enterprise, opportunity, liberty and fulfilling the American Dream right here in the Sunshine State.”Following dinner intermission, the focus of the event was changed to school choice, a priority issue for the Institute. Guests were treated to “Sharp Mind, Noble Heart: The Story of Valentine Mendez,” a JMI short film about a high school sophomore from Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood and his journey to find the school that best fit his needs. The full video can be viewed at this link: The video was most recently a feature on CNN en Español with Ismael Cala.As the film ended, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater was then welcomed up to the podium to share in his passion for school choice issues. He took the audience on a journey through the positive outcomes of the A+ School Accountability Plan, the different school choice scholarship plans started under the Bush administration, and onset of digital learning or virtual schools. CFO Atwater explained how he had first heard of Bush’s proposed reforms at a PTA meeting. When asked by the school’s principal if he would help to fight them he said he planned to run for the Florida Legislature to vote to enact them.He then told the audience that Florida school student performance went from 45th in the nation in reading, when Bush introduced his plan, to eighth. He also added that high school graduation rates increased by 25 percent — the second best improvement in the nation over a 10-year period.“Will we stay for this fight? Will we understand the consequences and the outcomes that will come if any of these are chipped away,” said CFO Atwater. “Everyone of these initiatives that has advanced the opportunities for our children to succeed in the world is under assault as we speak right now.”The event switched gears again as Dr. McClure and Stephen Hayes, one of America’s top political commentators, took the stage in a talk-show style format. Hayes answered questions submitted by audience members that varied from questions “How accurate is House of Cards?” and “What’s the answer in the Middle East?” to topics such as Obamacare, Medicaid expansion and federal government overreach. He also said he may move to Florida in the near future.“What could Washington D.C. learn form a state like Florida? Look at rankings from Forbes and others that have the Florida economy at the top of many reports. As we heard from CFO Atwater, this happened after long and difficult fights against entrenched interest where a lot of this overbearing government was rolled back,” said Hayes. “JMI has been at the forefront of this fight, helping keep Florida on the right track to fiscal solvency. The Institute’s work is critical and the outcome of JMI’s efforts to impact public policy in Florida are to the benefit to all Floridians.”JMI ended the night with a special announcement, the launch of The J. Stanley Marshall Center for Educational Options, which is named in honor of the Institute’s late founder, Dr. J. Stanley Marshall. Dr. Marshall, who passed away June 8, 2014, was an education reformer and former president of The Florida State University. His wife Shirley and daughter Sue Marshall Jones were present for the unveiling of the Marshall Center.”JMI’s new education center will build upon Dr. Marshall’s legacy and pay tribute to his memory,” said Allan Bense, JMI board chairman and former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. “The Marshall Center will place special emphasis on ideas like course choice and personal learning accounts so that all Florida students can obtain a customized education tailored to their unique needs, interests, abilities and learning style.”   Longtime JMI resident fellow, William Mattox, is now the director of the Marshall Center, which will work to influence the education reform dialogue in Florida. The center will educate policymakers with the goal to expand the educational options that already exist in Florida, create new opportunities and counter threats to student success in this arena.For more information about JMI, visit
Trusted Solutions for a Better Florida: Founded in 1987, The James Madison Institute (JMI) is Florida’s oldest and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization. JMI is dedicated to advancing such ideals as economic freedom, limited government, federalism, traditional values, the rule of law, and individual liberty coupled with individual responsibility. All JMI publications are available online at Twitter: @JmsMadisonInst – Facebook: