Politics & Government

June 1, 2013

Foes trying to block school standards in Kansas

Education and budget politics got tangled as the Kansas Legislature inched toward bringing its 2013 session to an end.

Education and budget politics got tangled as the Kansas Legislature inched toward bringing its 2013 session to an end.

The politics over national uniform benchmarks for public schools — known as Common Core — came back to life Friday as state lawmakers tried to slow the implementation of the program.

With attempts to ban Common Core outright dead, Senators rushed through a bill that would delay any standards not already in place at the start of this year. The bill is a carrot to push the House into a vote on a budget and taxes in order to bring the lingering 2013 session to an end.

“If this helps us get votes for a tax bill and a budget that would be wonderful,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover and chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.

The Common Core bill passed out of a committee Friday and is expected to be voted on by the full Senate on Saturday. The bill could get a vote in the House on Saturday and expedite the session’s end.

The measure bars the state from spending any money on putting into practice any Common Core standards, including assessments, that were not approved on Jan. 14, the legislative session’s first day. The ban would be lifted on April 15, 2014, leading advocates to stress that the bill is only a delay.

An 11-member oversight committee would be appointed by legislative leadership. That panel would advise the governor and the Legislature about continuing forward with Common Core. It disbands in June 2015.

If the bill passes, its impact would be felt almost immediately.

The elected state Board of Education would have to delay imposing new history and government standards approved in April. It also would delay new science standards scheduled to be considered in June.

Standards and assessments for math and English language arts, approved three years ago, would not be effected.

Diane DeBacker, the Kansas education commissioner, questioned whether the oversight panel was needed because the state already has an elected Board of Education with the same duties.

But opponents of Common Core, many who think it represents a federal takeover of education, have aggressively lobbied lawmakers to take action. Bills banning Common Core were killed in committee earlier this session. So was a budget proviso that banned spending on Common Core.

Conservative lawmakers said constituents have pressured them to oppose Common Core.

“My personal e-mails would show that there’s a significant outcry with the populace to do something,” Masterson said.

The mounting resistance to common standards is distressing to many school districts that embraced the collaborative effort. They thought the rationale behind them was established, and they were at least two years and thousands of dollars down the road putting them into their classrooms.

Forty-five states adopted the Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts since they were drafted in 2009 in a joint effort of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

At least 16 states, however, have since witnessed legislative efforts to block or limit the standards, including Missouri and Kansas. In mid-May, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill delaying that state’s implementation of Common Core.

Many people in education have long been advocating for some common standards to help schools set higher learning targets, be globally competitive and be able to compare performance across state lines.

The standards intend to set higher learning targets, but do not dictate curriculum. Advocates for the standards say that creativity in curriculum and lesson plans remain with the school and the teachers. The standards are state-led and not federal, but the U.S. Department of Education has supported them.

And states seeking competitive Race to the Top stimulus funds or seeking a waiver from the Federal No Child Left Behind Act thought they had a better chance if they were implementing the Common Core.

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