The federal role in K-12 education should be to help support and encourage state-level reforms, not to write standards or curriculum, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday, during the very first GOP candidates’ forum of the 2016 presidential election campaign.
“States ought to create standards,” said Bush, who, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is one of just two supporters of the standards in the race, and is taking a beating for it from his rivals. “They should be state-driven and locally implemented.”
Instead, the feds should help states implement their own education vision, Bush said at the forum held at Saint Anslem’s College in Manchester, New Hampshire.
He pointed to his fellow presidential contender, Gov. Bobby Jindal—another forum participant—who he said has “created some amazing reforms in Louisiana.” But the Pelican State can’t use federal dollars to implement those efforts, Bush added.
Bush was likely referring to Jindal’s school choice program, which allows students to attend private schools on the public dime and has gotten pushback from the U.S. Department of Justice. Bush was probably not talking about Jindal’s big flip-flop on the Common Core State Standards. (Jindal was for the standards, which were crafted by governors but embraced and encouraged by President Barack Obama, before he was against them.)
And just because he doesn’t think the federal government should set standards doesn’t mean that Bush is backing away from his support of the common core. Without mentioning the initiative by name, he said: “We need higher standards, we need robust accountability, school choice, ending social promotion, a comprehensive plan to make sure that more than a third of our kids are college- or career-ready.” (That’s in line with what Bush said on common core late last year.)
Bush’s remarks made for the most interesting edu-moment at the Manchester Union Leader’s forum, which drew 14 candidates. (Sorry, no Donald Trump.) K-12 policy took a back seat to pretty much every other conceivable issue. The format wasn’t a traditional debate. Candidates were asked direct questions by a moderator; they didn’t get to engage with each other.
There were a couple other edu-flashes:
- Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin talked about how his state had become a “right to work state,” ditching teacher tenure and paying teachers based on performance. He credited those steps with better results—reading scores are up, he said, and ACT scores are “the second best in the country.” (Fact check: Reading scores are indeed up, but they were on their way up before Walker took office. And they haven’t been going up steadily during his entire tenure. The Badger State also doesn’t seem to rank anywhere near second-highest in the country when it comes to ACT scores, at least according to this chart. Politifact looked into a similar claim and found that Wisconsin did indeed move from third to second place on the ACT, in states where more than half of kids took the test. But it’s really unclear that Walker’s policies had anything to do with those gains.)
- Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he’d like to see college tuition made tax deductible (an idea that was also floated by a fictional president, Jeb Bartlett, D-the West Wing).
- Former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas credited his state’s strong K-12 accountability with growing a skilled work force and helping spur the Lone Star state’s economy. (Interestingly, Perry was one of the biggest thorns in the Obama administration’s side on K-12 policy. Texas was one of just four states that totally sat out the Race to the Top competition. And Texas never adopted the common-core standards.)
- Former Gov. George Pataki of New York gave the common core it’s only other shout-out all night. Pataki, who left office before the standards even existed, said he wanted to get rid of them, but didn’t say why or how.
And finally, in a disappointment to education political nerds everywhere: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wasn’t asked about his recent statement that he’d like to punch teachers’ unions in the face.