CHICAGO (AP) — Raising U.S. educational expectations through national goals was a priority for Republican President George W. Bush. But many of his would-be successors in the GOP are calling for just the opposite of government-set rules, and it's splitting the party as the GOP class of 2016 presidential hopefuls takes shape.
Just six years after Bush left office, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul last week referred to a set of state-created standards, called Common Core, as a national "curriculum that originates out of Washington." That kind of statement stokes outrage among grass-roots conservatives, who are still incensed with the Obama administration over the 2010 health care law.
It also happens to be untrue: Forty-four states voluntarily participate in Common Core standards developed in part by Republican governors. And some other potential GOP presidential candidates support the standards and are objecting to the red-meat rhetoric designed to fire up the party's most fervent supporters.
"We cannot expect our children to compete with the best in the world when we have no standards or dumbed-down standards," former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the former president's brother, said at an education conference in Arizona last week.
In the meantime, education is rising as a GOP priority, if only as a proxy for a larger internal party debate over government's proper scope.
"This is a microcosm of the heart and soul of the Republican Party," said Chad Colby, a former top Republican National Committee spokesman who is now with the pro-Common Core group Achieve. "High education standards are too important to our economy and international standing to be derailed by ideological purists with no alternative plan."
Five years ago, a bipartisan group of governors and staff of the National Governors Association began collaborating with the Council of Chief State School Officers on shared higher standards, as a political alternative to the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind law.