Rubio wants to open up the Pell Grant program for vocational training for high school students. He also wants to create a corporate scholarship program for low income families.
CAMPBELL BROWN: So fast forward November 2016. You’ve just been elected President. How important do you see this issue to the future of this country. Do you want to be the education president?
MARCO RUBIO: I do but I think one of the best things that a president can do in order to move forward on K-12 is not to involve the federal government in its details. Allow that to reside with the local school districts and at the local level because it is at the states and local level where you’re going to see the innovation necessary to improve. The one area where I do think we can be helpful is for students that want to go into vocational training. I think we need more of that for 15, 16 and 17 year olds who have decided that they want to fix airplanes for a living or become a machinist or a welder. To open up the Pell Grant program so they can use it to go to high school in the morning and trade school in the afternoon and they can graduate job ready which would be a huge dynamic shifting development in America.
BROWN: K-12… we still have about 40% of our students who aren’t reading or able to do math or proficiency so as president of the United States...and you don’t believe the federal government should be that involved. I mean you’ve gone as far as to call for the abolishment of the department of education. What do you do to make these changes happen?
RUBIO: Well again the first thing you do is you have a president that understands that those changes will never come from the federal government. It has to be about ensuring that local school districts and states are making those changes by developing power back to them. The one thing I have proposed is opening up a new pathway to school choice by creating a corporate scholarship program where American companies in lieu of a portion of their taxes being paid to the government would pay it into a local not for profit scholarship organization that gives scholarships to low income families to send their children to a private school of their choice. I’m not saying it’s a silver bullet that’s going to solve everything but it will provide yet one more avenue by which low income parents can have access to a better education then the one their kids are getting now.
BROWN: Would you ever consider using federal dollars to try to incentivize states to adopt school choice programs to expand charters?
RUBIO: The problem with that is if federal dollars that start off as incentives become mandates. The federal government has a long tendency and a long history of sending dollars down as a suggestion and then ultimately becoming a mandate (with not strings attached, chains attached and ropes) and I just don’t want us to have a national school board. So anything we can do to spur innovation is positive but I think one of the best things we can do to spur innovation in K-12 is ensure the federal government is not controlling it or mandating it or providing money to states with strings attached. So it’s largely about devolving money and sending that money in block grant form to the local communities, to the school districts, and to the states. So they can put in place the kind of innovative changes we need to improve K-12 in this country.
BROWN: Hillary Clinton was at one point a supporter of charter schools and some of the ideas in the education reform movement. President Obama has been throughout his presidency pretty supportive of many of those changes. But recently Mrs. Clinton said charters are cherry picking kids and has received the endorsement of both of the teachers unions. Do you see democrats as being able to think about the future in the terms you’re talking about or are they too beholden?
RUBIO: To be fair we’re not in Florida. I was in the state legislature for eight and a half years. When we started in Florida every democrat was against any school choice, charter schools, parental choice. And then over time as individual students began to benefit from these programs we found for example the majority of the African American legislatures that were democrats began to become supporters of school choice .So that’s a positive development. But you touch on something and that is the Democratic Party relies heavily on contributions and support from teacher unions around the country who quite frankly are one of the biggest impediments to educational reform in this country. And so she’s a captive of that. They’ve taken over the democratic parties educational agenda. And Hillary Clinton who’s probably going to be the democratic nominee is not going to be able to be an innovator on K-12 because she’s fully owned by the teachers union when it comes to K-12 education.
BROWN: Common Core has been controversial within the Republican Party. Your mentor Jeb Bush who’s been a real leader on education I think for years has stayed with Common Core as the idea of a way to get all states to raise their standards. Where are you?
RUBIO: Common Core’s about curriculum reform and I’m a supporter of curriculum reform.
BROWN: But Common Core’s about trying to set a benchmark that everyone can aim for.
RUBIO: But the benchmarks drive the curriculums. So in essence if you say we want to become more proficient at this or that then the curriculum would respond to it. My problem with that is of course every time if you create it as a national standard the next step is going to be the federal government uses it as a mandate mechanism. They’re going to tell states “we want you to specifically do this if you want our money” and that’s what I want to avoid. Now when I was speaker of the house in Florida we improved standards in our curriculum but we did it at the state level and I think that’s where it belongs and I don’t think we need national standards I think that the competition between individual states and school districts is what’s going to drive excellence.