Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called school choice the greatest civil rights issue of the 21st century.

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Texas Sen. Ted Cruz labels school choice "the most compelling civil rights issue of the 21st century"

Cruz's comments come at a time of racial unrest in the wake of two recent grand jury decisions

The potential 2016 GOP presidential contender will lead a subcommittee on the Constitution in the new Congress

Washington CNN  — 

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called school choice “the most compelling civil rights issue of the 21st century” and suggested it will be a significant focus of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and human rights when he becomes chairman in the new Congress.

The potential GOP presidential contender made the remarks during a Senate hearing on community policing, scheduled in the wake of racial protests sparked by the deaths of two unarmed African-American men at the hands of white police officers.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, both African-American, and Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who is Latino, offered testimony during the hearing on the ways in which an uneven application of the law has impacted their respective racial communities. Each Democrat punctuated their testimony with stories of their own encounters with discrimination.

But Cruz, in opening remarks before those three panelists spoke, highlighted school choice — a phrase typically used by conservatives to connote the expansion of charter school programs — as a key civil rights issue.

“When it comes to civil rights, I think there is no civil right more important than the right of every child to access a quality education,” Cruz said.

“And in my view, the most compelling civil rights issue of the 21st century is the the need to expand school choice and educational options so that every child, regardless of race … has a fair opportunity to receive an excellent education.”

He said while school choice hasn’t been a focus of the subcommittee, he hopes it will be during the next two years, when he’ll take over the gavel.

Though charter school programs have drawn many critics, who believe they siphon needed funds and resources away from public schools, they’ve also earned some bipartisan support. Proponents of the policy tout their ability to provide low-income and minority students access to better educational opportunities than they might otherwise have in their own neighborhoods.