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Sen. Ted Cruz Trying to Revive Ronald Reagan’s 1980 Campaign Pledge

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 22, 2016 1 min read
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Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas hasn’t said a lot about public schools on the GOP presidential campaign trail, but Cruz’s handful of K-12 policy positions are pretty clear. And one of them is a revival of a promise made by one of his political role models, President Ronald Reagan, over 35 years ago.

During his campaign for the presidency in 1980, Reagan vowed to end the U.S. Department of Education. However, his own appointee to the position, Terrel Bell, went from supporting a downgrade for the Education Department to being one of its more ardent defenders. And the department’s 1983 release of “A Nation at Risk,” a report claiming there was a “rising tide of mediocrity” in America’s schools, helped raise the department’s profile at one of its more endangered moments. Reagan reiterated in 1984 that he was targeting the department for elimination, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

That hasn’t stopped Cruz from pledging that he would abolish the department, but not before saying he would order it to abolish the Common Core State Standards. Joy Pullmann, an education research fellow at the Heartland Institute, acknowledged that’s not something the president, nor the Education Department, can do. (She supports Cruz personally, although the Heartland Institute is not endorsing any candidate.) And she told me getting rid of the department is a long shot—after all, it’s a very complicated political proposition. But she told me that it’s still worth trying, and Cruz would be the most likely candidate to try to get it done.

“I found them the most trustworthy folks on education issues,” Pullmann said about working with Cruz’s education staffers in Congress.

But Sandy Kress, a former assistant to President George W. Bush who helped create the No Child Left Behind Act, is much less impressed with what Cruz has put out there so far on K-12. He’s disdainful of the idea Cruz has supported in the Senate to let states shrug off federal accountability, saying that amounts to Uncle Sam just dumping money” onto states with no oversight.

“It’s pretty sad to see where Republican thinking on this has devolved, particularly at the national level,” Kress said, who also said the K-12 rhetoric from all the candidates has been “pathetic.”

Photo: Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a town hall event at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. —Nati Harnik/AP

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