Former Florida governor and GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush had an awkward conversation about Common Core education standards this week, calling the initiative’s name “poisonous” while attempting to appeal to conservatives who oppose the program — even though he supports it.
While speaking at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Friday, former Florida governor Bush tried to talk his way around a question about the Common Core Standards Initiative, an education policy initiated by the National Governors Association that tries to bring education standards into alignment nationwide.
“The term ‘Common Core’ is so darn poisonous, I don’t even know what it means,” Bush said. “[But] I’m for higher standards — state-created, locally implemented — where the federal government has no role in the creation of standards, content or curriculum.”
The evasive answer appears to be an attempt to sidestep widespread Republican opposition to the policy, which is rooted in the misconception that it amounts to a “federal takeover” of the education system — even though the standards were created by state governors, not the federal government, and developed at the state level.
But Bush seemed far more confident about what Common Core “means” in May, when he repeated his longstanding support for the policy at an event in Tennessee.
“Because people have a different view of what Common Core is, am I supposed to back away from something that I know works?” Bush told attendees at the event, which occurred before he announced his candidacy for president.
Bush’s ardent support for Common Core made sense back then, given that he actively encouraged the governor of Tennessee to embrace the higher standards in 2014. But the Volunteer State ultimately abandoned it earlier this year, following the lead of a handful of other states that have ditched the program. This includes New Jersey, where another GOP candidate — Gov. Chris Christie — agreed to adopt the standards in 2010, only to reverse course and pull the plug on select parts of the policy in May of this year.
Politically speaking, Bush’s endorsement of education reform puts him at odds with the conservative base. A February survey found that most Republican voters in early primary states such as South Carolina and New Hampshire would not consider a candidate who supports Common Core “acceptable,” and an August 2014 poll reported that Republican primary voters writ large overwhelmingly disapprove of the policy, with 76 percent saying they oppose the higher education standards. The best hope a GOP candidate who approves of Common Core to be in Iowa, where 57 percent of Republicans say they would vote for a candidate who backs higher education standards.
Bush also has a family legacy to contend with: His brother — former president George W. Bush — signed No Child Left Behind into law, which instituted federal test score standards on federally-funded schools with lower-income students.
Yet Bush’s bobbing and weaving over the issue contrasts starkly with Ohio governor and fellow GOP presidential candidate John Kasich, who has been open about his support for Common Core for some time. When pressed about the issue in an interview with Fox News in January, Kasich refused to back down, pointing out that Common Core isn’t the federally-mandated school curriculum that some conservatives make it out to be.
“The Common Core was written by state education superintendents and local principals,” Kasich said. “In my state of Ohio, we want higher standards for our children, and those standards are set and the curriculum is set by local school boards … Barack Obama doesn’t set it, the state of Ohio doesn’t set it. It is local school boards driving better education, higher standards, created by local school boards.”
This article appeared under several headlines, including “Jeb Bush Calls Common Core ‘Poisonous,’ Forgets He Actually Supports It.” It has been restored to its original published headline, “Jeb Bush Is Trying Really Hard To Sound Like He Doesn’t Support Common Core,” to emphasize Bush’s stance.