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Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio get in a fight about Common Core

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush got a debate question about an issue that has divided him from the rest of the Republican field: his continued support of Common Core.

Bush said he doesn't support the federal government creating education standards for states, "directly or indirectly." (The Common Core standards were written primarily by two groups of state-level officials, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.) "I think the states ought to create these standards," Bush said. "If states want to opt out of Common Core" — as seven states have — "fine, make sure your standards are high."

Bush didn't say if adopting high standards was just something he'd hope states would do, or if it was something the federal government would enforce. Then he pivoted to his record of creating voucher programs in Florida.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in response that even if something begins as a suggestion from the federal government, it won't end up that way: "They will turn it into a mandate," he said. "What they will begin to say to local communities is, You will not get federal money unless we do things the way they want you to do it" and "force it down the throats of our people and our states."

Common Core was never a federal mandate, but the Education Department did make lots of money contingent on states adopting either the Common Core or "college- and career-ready standards." And the federal government has enforced other education requirements, most notably the standardized testing regimen of No Child Left Behind.