The Seventy Four Interviews Carson, Rubio on Education

By Mark Walsh — November 12, 2015 4 min read
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Two more Republican presidential candidates gave their views on education this week in interviews with Campbell Brown of education website The Seventy Four.

U.S Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida stressed his belief that the U.S. Department of Education should be eliminated, with a few core functions transferred elsewhere in the federal government. And he said there was no need for national education standards as exemplified by the Common Core State Standards.

“I don’t think we need national standards,” Rubio told Brown. “The competition between individual states and school districts is what’s going to drive excellence.”

Meanwhile, Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who has hovered near the top of the polls in the GOP race, repeatedly stressed that he would back private school vouchers and other measures to give parents more educational choice.

“We know that the very best education is home school,” Carson said. “The next is private school, the next is charter schools, and the last is public schools. If we want to change that dynamic, we have to offer some real competition to the public schools.”

Carson and Rubio join a list of six other Republican candidates who have submitted to questioning by Brown, the former CNN news anchor who started The Seventy Four over the summer as a news site focused on education. At an Aug. 19 event in New Hampshire, Brown interviewed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Carly Fiorina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has since quit the race. (Education Week covered the forum here.)

The Seventy Four was to be a participant in a forum for Democratic presidential candidates in Iowa last month, along with the American Federation for Children and the Des Moines Register, but the event was canceled amid reports that the national teachers unions, which have endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, worked to scuttle the event.

Brown interviewed Carson and Rubio for about 25 and 12 minutes, respectively, just before the Republican debate in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

Carson was generally vague in his answers, stressing that vouchers and choice would be the answer to almost every problem in K-12 education.

“I keep coming back to the same answer. When we have local control and choice, that problem takes care of itself because people will automatically migrate to the places where their kids are getting well-educated, so that whole argument goes right out the window,” Carson said.

Although he affirmed his belief in doing away with the federal Education Department, he was less strident about it than some other GOP candidates, and he suggested the federal government could play a role in “incentivizing” the states to adopt voucher programs and “can play an important role” in promoting science, technology, and mathematics (STEM) education.

On the common core, Carson said, “I am generally hoping that it will die a quiet death.”

The Rubio Outlook

Rubio told Brown there was no need for the federal Education Department and that core functions such as student loans and Pell grants could be transferred to the Department of the Treasury.

“My problem with the Department of Education is the federal government was never intended to be involved in K-12 education,” Rubio said. “K-12 belongs at the local level because parents have much more influence over a school board or the state legislature than they ever will over Congress or over unelected bureaucrats sitting in a massive building in Washington, D.C.”

Rubio also stressed school choice, saying many Democratic Florida lawmakers came around to supporting the state’s choice programs once they were put in place. He called for a “corporate scholarship program” in which companies could donate some money in lieu of federal corporate income taxes to non-profit organizations that provide scholarships for private school for low-income students.

Rubio would not even commit to using the presidency as a bully pulpit to promote educational improvement.

“I think one of the best things that a president can do to move forward on K-12 is to not involve the federal government in its details,” he said.

Asked by Brown about the common core, Rubio said, “I’m a supporter of curriculum reform. The benchmarks drive the curriculum. My problem with that is if you create it as a national standard, the next step is the federal government uses it as a mandate mechanism. They’re going to tell states, ‘We want you to specifically do this if you want our money.’ And that’s what I want to avoid.”

And asked about Democratic front-runner Clinton’s recent suggestion that charter schools were skimming top students from traditional public schools, Rubio said the teachers’ unions have “taken over the Democratic Party’s educational agenda, and Hillary Clinton, who’s probably going to be the Democratic nominee, is not going to be able to be an innovator on K-12 because she’s fully owned by the teachers’ union.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.