Rubio’s Education Evolution

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0)

As the Presidential elections loom, one of the most watched rivalries in the Republican field is between presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.  The two have a long working history and major similarities in their approach to economics, social issues, and immigration reform.  Given this, it’s not hard to imagine the two competing for the same set of supporters.  For wavering primary voters, one of the only issues setting the two apart is education, where Rubio has just established a firm stand against federal education mandates, according to Bloomberg:

I believe in having a 21st century curriculum, but I believe it should be done at the local and state level,” Rubio said at the college. “And if you create some sort of national standard, even as a suggestion, it will turn into a mandate the federal government will force on our students and our local school boards and you’re going to end up with a national school board.

The remarks are a departure from Rubio’s pre-Senate days, when Bloomberg notes he advocated for higher standards among localities while serving as Florida’s Speaker of the House.  But it’s a crucial argument that Rubio needs to make if he wants to appeal to an important demographic for any election: concerned mothers.

“We’re just training worker bees,” said Ann Marie Banfield, a New Hampshire mother to two college students and one in high school. “It has nothing to do with learning.”

Banfield, who asked Rubio about Common Core at a house party hosted by Jay and Jenna Pedone on Friday, said she’s trying to ask every Republican presidential candidate about the issue. She said New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan isn’t stopping the standards from spreading and hopes the next president will.

“That would be huge,” she said.

Rubio, who said he’d consider eliminating the Department of Education as president, signaled that he’d like to be the one to do that.

Final verdict: Rubio’s stand on education marks a smart political shift that gives him a much needed edge against Jeb Bush, with whom he will be competing for voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere on otherwise vastly similar issues.  If Rubio is the eventual nominee, he may have to save a special place in his acceptance speech for parents who pushed him over the top.

Nick Arnold is a researcher for American Principles in Action.