Marco Rubio Makes Opposition to Common Core And Vocational Education Key Issues In Pitch To Voters

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at a town hall at Fisher Community Center in Marshalltown, Iowa, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. (
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

In New Hampshire, GOP 2016 contender Sen. Marco Rubio recently told voters there is no place for the federal government in local public schools and that America needs to focus on vocational education for students who aren’t likely to attend college and are more interested in the trades.

While on the campaign trail, Rubio has commanded the attention of parents who have opposed the Common Core standards and the federal intrusion into local education that has come with the reform. In addition, he has honed in on the issue of rising college education costs coupled with massive student debt and yet often no jobs for college graduates to show for it.

Ann Marie Banfield, grassroots parent activist and education liaison with the New Hampshire-based Cornerstone Action, asked Rubio at a campaign stop about federal involvement in K-12 public education, and shared a recording of his responses with Breitbart News.

“I don’t think the federal government has any role to play in local schools…and I don’t think you even need a Department of Education,” Rubio responded. “I don’t think you should have a Department of Education. There’s no federal role in local schools. We don’t need a national school board.”

The candidate has made it increasingly clear he views Common Core as a tool of the Obama administration to further federalize education.

“Common Core has been used by the Obama administration to turn the Department of Education into a national school board,” Rubio says on his website. “This effort to coerce states into adhering to national curriculum standards is not the best way to help our children attain the best education, and it must be stopped.”

While Rubio did vote against the Senate’s version of the controversial reauthorization of the federal No Child Left Behind bill, he skipped the vote on the final conference legislation called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), yet another Washington, D.C. “bipartisan” measure that was largely negotiated behind closed doors and signed by President Obama almost immediately after its approval by Congress.

In a statement to Breitbart News, the Florida senator said, “While the Every Student Succeeds Act takes important steps in restoring some control over education decisions back to the states, it does not go far enough.”

“Unfortunately, the bill does not grant states autonomy in all education decision-making, expands the federal government’s role in Pre-K, and fails to include important measures that broaden school choice,” he added. “Due to these shortcomings, I am unable to lend my support to this bill.”

In fact, many Common Core experts say the ESSA hardly restores much in the way of local control at all.

Ze’ev Wurman, former senior policy adviser for the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush, told Breitbart News in December the ESSA does little – if anything at all – to eliminate Common Core.

“ESSA still talks about ‘post-secondary readiness,’ albeit in sotto voce,” he explains. “Further, the Secretary of Education still has to approve state standards as a part of state plans, which allows the Secretary to push his way around.”

Coming from the left, former assistant secretary for the U.S. Education Department Peter Cunningham recently wrote about the ESSA – which was spearheaded by Sen. Lamar Alexander: “[T]he new law that the senator from Tennessee is so proud of, the Every Student Succeeds Act [ESSA], now mandates the very thing he rails against.”

“Under the new law, every state must adopt ‘college- and career-ready’ standards,” Cunningham explains. “Thus, the new law all but guarantees that Common Core State Standards—or a reasonable imitation under a different name—will likely remain in place in most states.”

Rubio has been a supporter of school choice and has sponsored federal legislation for tax-credit scholarships, which data have shown present less additional regulatory burden on participating private schools than school vouchers. Andrew Coulson’s 2010 study at Cato found that voucher programs are more likely to “suffocate the very markets to which they aim to expand access,” because state funds—which invariably are tied to state regulations—are directly transferred, in the form of vouchers, to parents to spend in an alternate education setting.

Tax credit scholarships, however, involve no state funds directly expended on private schools. Instead, taxpayers, both individual and businesses, can receive full or partial tax credits when they donate money to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships. Coulson writes that such school choice programs have been found to “simultaneously boost achievement for students who switch to private schools, do the same for students who remain in public schools, and save taxpayers millions of dollars every year…”

Nevertheless, Coulson cautions “it is ill advised to pursue such a program (or other school choice programs) at the federal level.”

Rubio’s education agenda issues that have drawn the most fire from both the left and the right are that of student loan debt and school accountability, and his promotion of vocational education.

“I do believe our existing model of higher education is out of date,” he said in New Hampshire.

The senator is a co-sponsor of the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, which claims to make colleges more accountable.

Rubio explained the proposal in New Hampshire:

Before you take on a loan, the school has to tell you – here’s how much people make from our school when they graduate with the degree that you’re seeking – why is that important? Let me tell you why that’s important…because maybe you’re trying to choose between two schools. One of them costs $20,000 and people that graduate from there with your degree make $50 grand. The other school costs $100,000 and people who graduate from there made $50 grand. So, two schools – you graduate and you make the same amount of money – but one costs $100,000 and a lot of loans, and the other costs $20,000. We don’t have that information now. Students have to make up their mind based on reputation, based on what they read in U.S. News & World Report.

The senator addressed concerns about privacy rights in collecting the data to find out how much alumni from the schools are actually making:

The other thing is, what about your major? Before you borrow $100,000 to major in something that doesn’t lead to a job, you should at least know what the job prospects are, and you don’t have to violate privacy rights to collect that information. Go on LinkedIn…LinkedIn has all kinds of people who say “Here’s where I graduated,” “This is what my degree was,” “Here’s where I work.” And you can from that surmise a lot of information. And so, this is also a voluntary system, people aren’t going to be required to report how much they make. But, these alumni associations know how much people make ‘cause that’s who they’re targeting to raise money for their schools. And, so, my point to you is it is important for students to have access to this information. We have a trillion dollars of student loan debt, oftentimes borrowed by people who graduated with a degree, and then the degree did not lead to a job. Because in the 21st century it is not enough to have a college degree, it has to be the right degree.

Rubio next addressed his campaign for an increase in vocational education in the United States.

“When you talk about cost benefit, we need more vocational training in this country,” he said. “I don’t understand why we got rid of it in the first place…”

He continued:

Here’s what I believe, and, as president, I’ll be able to help with this. If you are a high school student, and you have decided that what you want to do is fix airplanes for a living, then I believe you should be able to go to high school in the morning and take your basic courses, then in the afternoon be able to go to trade school, using federal financial aid if your school doesn’t offer it – why? Because when you’re 18 years of age and you graduate, they’re going to hand you a high school diploma and they’re going to hand you an industry certification that says, “You are now certified to work as a welder, as a plumber, as an airplane mechanic, as a car technician.” 18 years of age, making $45-50,000 a year.

Instead, what are we doing with these kids? They drop out, ‘cause they don’t like what they’re studying, they’re not interested. They drop out and we lose them. Or they graduate and then they go to trade school. Let’s do it now. Let’s get more people to work in these important jobs. And it’s a choice – it will be an option that every student will have available to them if that’s what they choose to do.

Last week, in an op-ed at the Huffington Post, Hofstra social studies educator Alan Singer, blasted Rubio from the left over what he described as the senator “declaring war on college education.”

Singer writes:

According to Senator Rubio, liberal arts colleges are “indoctrination camps” that are only kept in business because the political left wants to protect “all their friends” that “work there.” This comes from a Presidential candidate whose political life has been kept afloat for years by one major campaign donor, Norman Braman, a billionaire Florida car dealer who also employees Rubio’s wife as a “consultant.” Braman pledged $10 million to the Rubio Presidential campaign and over the years has hired Rubio as a lawyer at his company, Braman Management, donated $100,00 toward Rubio’s salary as an instructor at Florida International College in Miami, and gave Rubio use of his private plane.

If Rubio’s idea of promoting voc ed among high school students is not based on “school-to-work” data collection that hopes to channel students from the lower grades into various trades for the benefit of business and industry, conservatives could likely support it. However, conservatives are also mindful of the fact that Rubio led the charge in the Gang of Eight immigration bill. As Breitbart News reported, Ramesh Ponnuru, writing at Bloomberg, said the bill represented an agenda that “would increase legal immigration, allow many illegal immigrants to become citizens, and start them on that path even if new enforcement measures against further illegal immigration turn out to be ineffective.”

Promoting a vocational education agenda if he is also promoting amnesty begs the question of whether Rubio’s voc ed federal financial aid will give priority to American students.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has championed both the Common Core standards and amnesty for illegal immigrants – as a means to keep inexpensive labor within the United States. The Chamber also promotes “work-study” programs similar to that developed by small manufacturing company Quality Work Floats. The program mirrors Rubio’s:

Students attend academic classes in the morning and work on the shop floor in the afternoon. They test their skills on approved equipment, assist with prep work, and explore different roles in the firm. Students receive school credit for participating in the program and benefit from coaching on soft skills. In turn, Quality Float Works has an opportunity to identify promising young talent that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

The program sounds all well and good. However, as Kirsten Lombard, editor of Common Ground on Common Core: Voices from across the Political Spectrum Expose the Realities of the Common Core State Standards, told Breitbart News last February, “Americans often allow themselves to be fooled by ‘workforce development’ and ‘school-to-work’ language because it has the sound of the private sector and business.”

Instead, Lombard said such rhetoric belongs “firmly in the realm of planned economy.”

“Until we as a people firmly reject the premise that government has a role in assisting business with the acquisition of workers, we will continue to be entrenched in policies and programs that unethically predetermine the pathways that will be open to our children,” she asserted.

Breitbart News asked the Rubio campaign to clarify whether his vocational education initiative was part of a greater “workforce development” effort, but the campaign did not respond to the request.


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