The Anti-Common Core Bill That Isn’t

  • Friday, March 28, 2014

On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee advanced a bill touted by its senatorial supporters as an “anti-Common Core bill.” That fact that it was light on “anti” and heavy on “Common Core” should surprise no one.

On his Facebook page, Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley) wrote, “GREAT DAY – S.300, my bill to get us out of the DC conceived Common Core educational standards and return to South Carolina standards cleared a major hurdle when it received a favorable vote by the SC Senate Education Committee.”

Hold on. Sen. Grooms is speaking of the bill as if it hasn’t been amended. But it has been amended, and it’s simply not true that it would “get us out” of Common Core. The bill would establish a cyclical review of the Common Core Standards (already adopted in South Carolina) no later than 2018. But the Education Accountability Act state standards are reviewed at a minimum seven years anyway, so there’s not much difference there. The bill, moreover, contains no directive – repeat, no directive – to repeal those standards in the event that a review reaches a negative conclusion about them. The cyclical review could conclude that Common Core is a disaster and, according to S.300, they could remain in place.

The proposal would also require the state to leave the SMARTER Balanced Consortium, but the state can only leave the Consortium – according to the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Governor Haley and Superintendent Zais – if those same signatories submit a letter with their signature for withdrawal.

The bill would furthermore require that any new standards not developed by the South Carolina Department of Education would require legislative approval. It’s not at all clear, however, that that provision would even apply to Common Core.

Parents and other key education stakeholders have been urging legislators to repeal the Common Core Standards by every means imaginable. They’ve flooded the governor and lawmakers with emails and phone messages, talked to their legislators in person, and even packed committee hearings over the months on this bill. Somehow, though, their concerns seem always to be overshadowed at committee hearings by education bureaucrats and special interest groups such as the Chamber of Commerce. The Senate Education Committee’s adoption of an amended S. 300 – a bill purporting to reject Common Core that does nothing of the sort – strongly suggests that lawmakers aren’t taking average citizens’ concerns seriously at all.

So, what do they take seriously? The answer is money – federal money. Ensuring that the state receives its “share” of federal education funds is the major reason why the state ended up with Common Core in the first place. The state got a waiver from participation in certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind program in exchange for a commitment to what later became known as Common Core. Federal Race to the Top grants, similarly, are only available to states that adopt Common Core or some other assessments regime that looks exactly like Common Core. Of course, senators on the Education Committee know this – indeed several of them pointed out that adopting Common Core had only been an “excuse” to get Race to the Top funds – although, curiously enough, most of these same senators in 2010 unanimously passed a Joint Resolution endorsing the state Department of Education’s application for Race to the Top funds. Sen. Paul Thurmond (R-Charleston) – who it should be pointed out wasn’t in the Senate in 2010 – put it accurately when he said the state has been “willing to cede over our standards to some national consortium” because of the federal dollars.

So let’s be clear. The state has the option to turn down federal education standards altogether, but that would require turning down federal education funds, and state politicians, though always generous with anti-Washington rhetoric, have shown a marked inability to turn down Washington’s money.

The committee’s passage of an amended S. 300 means the bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) placed a “minority report” on the bill, however, making it unlikely that it will reach the Senate floor for debate. (That could change if the bill is put on Special Order, but that would take a two-thirds vote by members present and voting.)

So, what’s your view: Is S.300 what its supporters in the Senate say it is?

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