Editor’s Note: In advance of Super Tuesday, this is part 3 of 5 in Education News’ series on the 2016 US Presidential candidates’ stances on education. The order of publication was determined by random drawing. Links to descriptions of each candidate’s education platform are included at the end of each piece.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas defied expectations in Iowa after defying the polls and winning the Iowa Caucuses, finishing slightly ahead of real estate mogul Donald Trump. In New Hampshire, however, the polls proved correct, and Donald Trump won a decisive victory over his Republican rivals. No Republican candidate has ever secured their party’s nomination without winning Iowa or New Hampshire; by that logic, the Republican nominee will be either Mr. Trump or Sen. Cruz.
The Republican nominating process thus becomes a contest between identity and ideology. Mr. Trump has tapped into an angry spirit among the electorate and is bucking both political correctness and Republican orthodoxy in his push for the nomination; his positions are more of an attitude than they are a policy agenda. By contrast, Sen. Cruz is a stated conservative who filters policy issues through that conservative philosophy. His stances on education in particular reflect the ideological campaign he is waging for the identity of America.
Like most of his fellow Republican adversaries, Senator Cruz believes in the decentralization of education at the federal level. He calls openly for the abolition of the Department of Education, and he has voiced vociferous opposition to Common Core education standards. As a U.S. senator, he has co-sponsored a resolution denouncing Common Core and emphasizing the need for local communities to take charge of education policy.
As president, he would empower states and, even more so, local communities to design and implement their own education policies that best fit their needs and values. “We need to get the federal government out of the business of dictating educational standards. Education is far too important for it to be governed by unelected bureaucrats in Washington. It should be at the state level or even better at the local level,” he has said on the campaign trail.
Yet his push for changing the country’s education system is not grounded in the reformist spirit of former Governor Jeb Bush or in the youthful optimism of Senator Marco Rubio. Rather, Senator Cruz evaluates and casts education as an ideological issue in a larger existential campaign against secular progressives who wish impose their values on America by ceding control from the local level to the federal government. He frames education as an ideological issue, a matter over which America’s identity as a traditionalist core is at stake.
In college, Mr. Cruz developed impressive skills as a debator; he has a knack for framing issues in unique, stirring ways and explaining them with a dramatic delivery that his opponents lack. That allows him to frame the expansion of choice in education as a modern-day civil rights struggle. “Imagine embracing school choice as the civil rights issue of the next generation. That every child, regardless of race, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of wealth or zip code, every child in America has a right to a quality education. And that’s true from all the above, whether it is a public school or charter school or private school or Christian school or home schooled. Every child,” Senator Cruz said at Liberty University in March of 2015.
Throughout the Republican contest, Senator Cruz has framed himself as a traditionalist, someone who wholeheartedly embraces the values of middle America such as faith, life, and traditional marriage. He premises the success of his campaign on turning out voters who hold similar beliefs.
For example, in Iowa, Senator Cruz launched a “99 pastors” strategy in which he secured the endorsement of at least one pastor for each of Iowa’s 99 counties in the run-up to the Iowa Caucus. After the votes were tallied, Mr. Cruz was propelled to victory by carrying around 37% of Iowans who self-identified as evangelical Christians and 43% of those who identified as “very conservative.” He mobilized voters who hold traditionalist stances on many of the issues facing America.
With regard to education, Mr. Cruz often voices his support of homeschooled students. He interprets homeschooling as the traditionalist approach to education, a family taking the education of their children into their own hands to instill their values, ideas, and worldviews. Homeschooled children tend to come from more conservative, religious communities in rural America, though those demographics are changing.
At the Homeschool Iowa Conference in March 2014, Senator Cruz said: “We love our children, and we take seriously the biblical admonition to raise them up to walk in a godly manner. Thank you for the financial commitment you give by not being paid in the workplace, the commitment of time, the commitment of energy, the commitment of passion for your kids. I’d like to speak on behalf of your children to say thank you. What you are doing is making a difference, and it’s a difference that will be felt for generations to come. Their children and their children’s children will thank you for the impact you are having on your kids preparing them to go forward.”
No other candidate has highlighted homeschooling more so than Senator Cruz — it is an issue that would receive a historically unprecedented level of attention and resources if Senator Cruz is elected to the presidency.
Mr. Cruz has talked little about how he would specifically attempt to reform higher education and student loans as president. In his campaign’s kickoff at Liberty University, Senator Cruz, who graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, told the crowd that he only recently paid off his student loans, which amounted to more than $100,000. He has since offered little specificity about how he could combat the student debt crisis.
Rather, Sen. Cruz wove the issue of student debt in a broader narrative about the American Dream. He argued that students saddled with lifelong financial burdens cannot fulfill their aspirations in the way that previous generations of Americans could. During his speech, he promised to mobilize a coalition of conservative Americans who have been ignored and ostracized by the status quo to reinvigorate America’s promise of unlocking its citizens’ natural potential.
In his campaign for president, Senator Cruz has favored ideological pronouncements more than specific policy details on education policy. He believes that America must first settle the existential question of what kind of country it wants to be before any reform in education – or in any other major area – can be accomplished. Accordingly, Sen. Cruz intends to pioneer America’s conservative revolution into the 21st century.
Other Candidates’ Education Platforms