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Ted Cruz and Education: Five Facts to Know Before the Iowa Caucuses

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 28, 2016 3 min read
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Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has been battling real estate mogul Donald Trump at the top of GOP presidential polls for a little while now. With the Iowa caucuses coming up Monday, where does he stand on public education?

In a few ways, Cruz epitomizes several Republican positions regarding education, particularly when it comes to the federal government’s role in public schools. He hasn’t made many waves when it comes to K-12 policy in the Senate, but he has backed notable legislation while opposing the biggest K-12 bill to come down the pike in 15 years (more below).

Read on for the “five facts” you should know about Ted Cruz and education.

1. Ted Cruz is no fan of the U.S. Department of Education.

He’s one of several Republican presidential candidates who’ve said they’d either consider drastic cuts to the Education Department, or abolishing the agency outright. During one debate, in fact, when he was naming five federal agencies he’d like to eliminate, Cruz slipped up and forgot to mention the Education Department, instead naming the Department of Commerce twice. (He later corrected his error to include the Education Department.) Cruz pitched it as part of a broader plan to cut $500 billion in federal spending.

2. The Common Core State Standards? Imagine a world without them.

That’s pretty much exactly what Cruz has to say about the standards. In his campaign kick-off speech at Liberty University last year, Cruz said to his audience, “Instead of a federal government that seeks to dictate school curriculum through common core ... imagine repealing every word of common core.” It’s tough to square Cruz’s words with the fact that states, not the federal government, adopt curriculum standards. Cruz is one of several candidates using the common core to attack the federal government, which has supported the standards, but didn’t pay for, write, or mandate them. Congress could send a future President Ted Cruz a bill that bars states from using the common core, but how would state officials and others react to that idea?

3. The federal government should pretty much stay out of everyone’s way on accountability, according to Cruz.

Earlier this year, Cruz, along with fellow GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, co-sponsored the “A-plus” Act that would have allowed states to opt out of any federal accountability requirements altogether. (It’s not the only thing the rival Republican senators have in common when it comes to K-12.) Basically, whether it involves, standards, curriculum, or assessments, Cruz doesn’t want the federal government anywhere near what states or districts want to do.

4. Cruz does not like the newest version of federal education law.

When the Every Student Succeeds Act came up for a vote in the Senate, Cruz gave it a thumbs-down. Meanwhile, Rubio, his rival for the GOP nomination, did not vote on ESSA, while fellow GOP candidate Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky voted no. The consensus view is that ESSA shifts more decisionmaking to state and local education officials, which is what Cruz and other candidates want to see. But it maintains federal testing mandates for grades 3-8 and high school, and does place certain requirements on states when it comes to K-12 oversight.

5. What’s “the civil rights issue of our era”? If you guessed “school choice,” then Ted Cruz agrees with you.

Last year, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that marked the official desegregation of American public schools, Cruz said the meaning of the Brown decision was being undermined by President Barack Obama because his administration has opposed voucher programs in the District of Columbia and Louisiana. Too many children, the senator said, are “trapped” in underperforming schools and are entitled to an escape route.

“School choice gives low-income children the same choices and opportunities that children from wealthy families have always had,” Cruz said in his statement. “And school choice improves the public schools, making them stronger and more effective.” Watch a video accompanying Cruz’s statement below.

BONUS: During the 2013 shutdown of the federal government, Cruz donated his congressional salary to YES Prep, a network of 15 charter schools serving 10,000 students.

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