For at least five months, Texas Senator Ted Cruz has been punctuating his speeches with a demand to "repeal Common Core." He previewed the line in a pre-midterm column, published by USA Today in October 2014; Common Core needed to be repealed, "so that local curriculum is not mandated by Washington bureaucrats." When Cruz took this on the road, audiences dutifully clapped and cheered; reporters dutifully noted the applause. (Most reporters, not all.)
It took until March 16 for a progressive voice to ask what the heck Cruz was talking about. At ThinkProgress, Judd Legum reported on a Cruz tweet—"We need to repeal every word of Common Core!"—with the headline "Ted Cruz Makes Impassioned Plea For Repeal Of Federal Legislation That Does Not Exist." Matter-of-factly, Legum explained that "Common Core is not, in fact, a federal law," that its standards were "developed by the states," and that the federal government played "no role" in writing them.
Legum's takedown was shared more than 23,000 times on Facebook and more than 2,000 times on Twitter. Could this senator be so pander-prone, or so befuddled, that he didn't realize that Common Core was not a bill to be repealed?
No, not really. "Common Core is a federally created curriculum that the state's 'Race to the Top' grants are tied to," offered Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Cruz. "So if the state does not adopt the standards, it gives up the grant money. But since the federal government created this mess, there should be a way to undo it."
Fine: Cruz does not punctuate his orations with calls to "untether the grant money for Race to the Top from Common Core standards." He condenses the matter into a line that fits lego-tight with his calls to "repeal every blasted word of Obamacare." But he's already on board with a proposal to shake off the standards. Cruz has co-sponsored the Local Control of Education Act, penned by Louisiana Senator David Vitter, which would strip Common Core mandates and "allow states that do not accept these standards to continue to qualify for federal grants and waivers currently limited to states that are in compliance with the standards."
Again, that's not quite "repeal" of Common Core, but it's not entirely clear that voters know how to get rid of the standards. "Common Core," which has taken heat from conservatives and liberals, and polls horribly, has become almost a metonym for "government getting education wrong." That's ironic—the states were supposed to take the lead on developing standards to avoid a backlash like this.
That didn't work, and the reality is confusing enough to allow politicians some muddle room. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who since his 2007 retirement has advocated for Common Core standards, has tried to calm Republican voters by saying the standards should not be federally mandated. "The federal government shouldn't have a role influencing—directly or indirectly—standards or curriculum or content," he said at one recent Iowa question-and-answer session. Did that mean he wanted to uncouple the standards from education grants? Luckily for Bush, the issue's just confusing enough that he wasn't asked to explain that. It was enough to say that he said that the states should decide their own standards—an answer that sounds like a concession, but is totally compatible with Common Core advocacy.