There’s less than a week less before the Iowa caucuses, the very first contest in the 2016 presidential race. And, according to polling, just three candidates have a shot at winning the state on the Republican side (mega-real estate developer Donald Trump, who is at the top of polls, plus U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and Marco Rubio, of Florida).
On the Democratic side, two candidates seem to have a good chance: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont.
So what kind of a record do each of these candidates have when it comes to education? And what have they been saying about the issue on the campaign trail? We’re going to spend the next week telling you.
First up is Marco Rubio, third place in the polls in Iowa, according to the realclearpolitics average. So what’s his edu-record and where has he been on K-12 on the campaign trail?
Here’s your rundown:
1. Rubio wants to get rid of the U.S. Department of Education.
Rubio is far from the only candidate who has said we should abolish the Education Department—Cruz and Trump are in the same camp. But it’s still an interesting position for someone who is running in the so-called “establishment lane” for the GOP nod. (By contrast, two other comparatively moderate contenders, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have said they just want to slim down the department. )
Consider this along with Rubio’s vote against the Senate version of the Every Student Succeeds Act—which scales back the federal role in K-12 considerably, but not as much as some conservatives would have liked—and it’s clear that the Florida senator is really running to the right on K-12 policy.
2. Rubio’s no fan of the Common Core State Standards—and he’s attacked his rivals for supporting them.
Early on in the campaign season, Rubio distanced himself from Bush, a political mentor, by saying he didn’t support the common core. Now he’s used the standards to attack other GOP rivals, including Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a common core fan-turned-hater. (Check out the exchange between Rubio and Christie during the most recent Republican debate.) The interesting part: Rubio had a chance to vote against federal involvement in common core when the Senate considered the Every Student Succeeds Act. But he didn’t take it.
3. Rubio has rushed out to hug school choice.
Rubio doesn’t have a comprehensive K-12 education plan out yet. (To be fair, none of the contenders in either party do either, except Bush.) But it’s a good bet his plan will put a premium on school choice. He’s sponsored legislation to make tax credits available for private school tuition and worked with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., on charter legislation. He also gave the thumbs-up to big school choice bills sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Tim Scott, R-S.C. Some of Rubio’s top rivals, including Bush and Cruz, have also talked up choice.
4. Even though he voted against the Senate version of what became ESSA, and isn’t a fan of the common core, Rubio has supported standards and accountability at the state level.
In his book, An American Son: A Memoir, Rubio said he was “very proud” that as speaker of the Florida House “we continued the accountability-based education reforms begun by Jeb Bush.” Namely, the state “raised the standards for math, science, and language arts to better prepare students for college, for technical schools and for success in the global marketplace.” So no common core, but high standards are good, it would seem.
5. He’s very interested in job-training and college access.
That makes Rubio a great fit for the 2016 campaign, which has focused way more on post-secondary issues than improving K-12 schools. Rubio collaborated with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on a bill that would bring transparency to the process of picking a college. And he worked with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., on a bill to create “American Dream” accounts that help low-income students prepare for college. During debates, Rubio has also hit that theme, saying a couple different times that America needs to step up its game on vocational education.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., waves as he walks from the stage after speaking during the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 27.--Carolyn Kaster)/AP-File