Ted Cruz made no mistake in highlighting his opposition to a set of educational standards known as Common Core in his first presidential campaign speech.
"Instead of a federal government that seeks to dictate school curriculum through Common Core," he said to applause from the Liberty University crowd on March 23, "imagine repealing every word of Common Core."
Formally known as the Common Core State Standards, the once low-key, bipartisan effort to improve math and literacy education has quickly transformed into a major issue for many conservatives like Cruz, now a Republican U.S. senator from Texas, as they believe it's just another example of government overreach.
It's also a way for Cruz and other politicians likely to vie for the Republican Party nomination—including Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker—to differentiate themselves from potential front-runner Jeb Bush. The former Florida governor is a long-time Common Core supporter, a topic detractors could seek to tie to his establishment credentials and political moderation.
That combination of factors has virtually assured that Common Core will be an important topic of debate ahead of voting in November 2016.
"It will be a major issue because of its symbolic importance," said Tom Loveless, who researches education policy as a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a politically centrist think tank. "It's red meat for the kinds of conservative activists that a number of the contenders on the Republican side want to appeal to."