Vote on separate bill to defund Common Core standards appears less likely

05/01/2014 1:59 PM

08/08/2014 10:23 AM

Around noon on Thursday, a fight over Common Core at the Statehouse looked imminent, but now it appears much less likely.

In the middle of negotiations over the budget, Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, pushed for the House to vote on legislation that had passed the Senate in April during the school finance debate. That bill would halt state funding to the Common Core State Standards, a set of national education standards adopted by the Board of Education 2010.

The bill would be separate from the state’s budget as a whole.

“There’s been a lot of requests for (halting) Common Core, since it’s such an emotional topic,” said Masterson, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “So instead of embedding it in the budget bill I just wanted to give them a stand alone up or down vote on it.”

He said he has received requests from his constituents and from residents across the state to revive the legislation.

“It’s a topic they want another crack at it, so I’m offering them another crack at it,” Masterson said.

His House counterpart, Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, initially said he expected a debate and vote to take place either late Thursday or Friday.

But a few hours later, Suellentrop said it was undecided whether a vote would take place. He noted that the state was already well into the process of implementing standards and that some lawmakers are worried about shifting gears in the middle of the process.

“We’re really trying to be pragmatic about this decision making,” Suellentrop said.

Opposition to the standards results partially from perceptions that is a federal program. It actually was created by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It has been endorsed by President Obama and been the focus of incentives from the U.S. Department of Education.

The move to stop Common Core, which has been heavily pushed by tea party activists, is misguided, said Tom Krebs, spokesman for the Kansas Association of School Boards. He said school districts have already spent years implementing Common Core.

“To turn back now would be a mistake, and as other states are finding, you can hardly write curriculum without Common Core,” he said.

He said the standards are more rigorous than previous state standards and encompass a wide variety of skills students need to know.

“You can’t write curriculum without it,” he said.

Rep. Roderick Houston, D-Wichita, who sits on the House Education Committee, questioned the wisdom of stopping Common Core after school districts have spent several years implementing the standards.

“What’s going to be the fallout?” he asked.

A bill to repeal the standards never made it out of the House Education Committee this session. Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, who sits on the committee, said repeal attempts have not advanced because hearings have proven the quality of the standards.

She also said there’s no line item in the budget for Common Core implementation, so what money lawmakers would be halting is difficult to determine.

“Would we halt all school funding because the standards simply are the benchmarks for each grade level? So teaching second-graders to count to 100, we’re going to outlaw that? What is it that we’re defunding?” she said.

Rooker said she was disappointed to see the proposal resurface after it was dropped during the school finance negotiations as an olive branch to House members. It was one of the few conservative policy pieces not included in the final bill passed by the Legislature in early April.

Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, who chairs the education committee, said she thinks the Common Core needs greater scrutiny, but she was skeptical about acting too hastily.

She said the implementation of Common Core has varied throughout the states, as evidenced by the wide-ranging opinions of parents and teachers on the issue.

“When you have half of the parents that really love the homework that’s coming home and half of the parents who are very disturbed by the homework coming home … something is amiss in the way that it’s being implemented for sure,” she said.

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