The republican establishment in Washington and every state capital talks education policy in an echo chamber. Bobby Jindal’s now struck down state-wide voucher bill was seen as a righteous holy crusade. Mitt Romney ran on vouchers. Jeb Bush made a gushing case for them in Tampa at the convention. Now, GOP standard-bearer Marco Rubio is talking the talk. In a recent speech to the Jack Kemp Foundation, Rubio pitched federal tax credit scholarships. From Jeff Solochek at Gradebook:
“Our tax code should reward investment in education. If you invest in a business by buying a machine, you get a tax credit for the cost. If there is a tax credit for investing in equipment, shouldn’t there be a tax credit for investing in people?
“Let’s provide tax encouragement to help parents pay for the school of their choice. Let’s create a corporate federal tax credit to a qualifying, non-profit 501(c)(3) Education Scholarship Organization, so that students from low income families can receive a scholarship to pay for the cost of a private education of their parents’ choosing.”
The public school system for millions of disadvantaged American children is a disaster. Many of these schools deny opportunity to those who need it most. We need to allow charter schools and other innovative schools to flourish. The key to that is empowering parents. Parents should be the ultimate decision makers on where their children go to school. But poor and working class parents often have no choice about what schools their children can attend. All our parents should be able to send their children to the school of their choice. For parents with special needs children, the freedom to choose their kids’ school is especially important.”
As Solocheck points out, Rubio is making the case for federal intervention in education policy. But in a 2011 letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Rubio was expressing the opposite.
As you may know, a rising number of parents, teachers and administrators from across our nation have expressed concerns regarding the Department of Education’s recent announcements relating to the issuance of waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB); particularly the stipulations expected to be attached to those waivers. The issuance of conditional waivers is detrimental to our country’s shared goal of educational success for every student.
Our principal concern is that the Executive branch does not possess the authority to force states into compliance with administration-backed reforms instituted through the issuance of waivers. We acknowledge that NCLB allows the Secretary to grant waivers for existing provisions under the law, but nowhere does the law authorize waivers in exchange for the adoption of administration-preferred policies. This initiative is an overstep of authority that undermines exiting law, and violates the constitutional separation of powers. The responsibility for legislating lies with Congress, and forcing policy reforms through NCLB waivers violates this most basic of constitutional structures.
Furthermore, I am concerned that the administration’s requirements for granting a waiver from NCLB would entail states having to adopt a federally-approved “college and career ready” curriculum: either the national Common Core standards, or another federally-approved equivalent. I am also concerned that the U.S. Department of Education has created, through its contractors, national curriculum materials to support these Common Core standards. Such activities are unacceptable; they violate three existing laws: NCLB, the Department of Education Organization Act, and the General Education Provisions Act. All three laws prohibit the federal government from creating or prescribing national curriculum. If you believe that conditional waivers tied to content standards do not violate these laws, I invite you to explain the reasoning underlying that belief.
Rubio is clearly selective in what sort of federal control he prefers on education policy. On one hand, he wants to further manipulate the federal tax code with a tax credit in a manner which would clearly affect individual state policy-making. While on the other hand, Rubio criticizes Duncan’s desire for a national curriculum and what such executive intervention imposes on states.
A cynical political observer might conclude that Rubio is taking cues from the Godfather, Jeb Bush. If he wants a path to the GOP nomination in 2016, he’ll have to both keep Bush out of the race and acquiesce to him on education policy. Rubio’s 2011 letter to Duncan put him at odds with Bush who publicly urged Duncan to grant NCLB waivers. His recent tax credit speech reveals that he – and every GOP presidential hopeful – will be unable to be an think independent thinker on education policy.