"As soon as states had to start spending money on the Common Core, as soon as it became a line item in the budget, people sit up and take notice," Butcher said. "And that wasn't going to happen until now, until states started to implement it. So it's unfortunate that there is so much attention to it so late in the game but that's kind of where we are. As soon as it starts to become a money issue people will pay attention."
Calculations on the cost of implementing the standards vary, with the Pioneer Institute and two other anti-Common Core conservative think tanks estimating it will cost $16 billion over seven years. Meanwhile, the Fordham Institute, which is pro-Common Core, said the cost over a one-to-three-year transition period could range from $8.3 billion to breaking even or even saving money, depending on things like whether the states purchase hard-copy textbooks or use open-source learning material written by experts, vetted by their peers and posted for free downloading.
One issue is that new tests tied to the standards will be computerized, requiring some states and districts to make technology upgrades. The Pioneer analysis included those technology costs; the Fordham one didn't.
In backing ultimately unsuccessful anti-Common Core legislation in Missouri, Rep. Kurt Bahr, a Republican from the St. Louis suburb of O'Fallon, said he was concerned that many communities lacked the bandwidth and hardware to administer the tests.
"We don't have that connectivity," Bahr said. "It's about to become a massive pocketbook issue."
The standards are the result of an initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Carrie Heath Phillips, who oversees implementation of the standards for the council, played down the concerns about cost, noting that states periodically update their standards and that spending money to implement new ones is nothing new. She also acknowledged that technology upgrades can be a real issue for states that haven't invested in it, but asked, "If you're not moving into the 21st century now in 2013, when are you going to?"
The standards have a long list of supporters, including the National Parent Teacher Association, several education associations and businesses such as the Boeing Co. and Microsoft Corp.
Literacy teacher Jessica Cuthbertson said she attempted to fully implement the new standards in her sixth-grade Aurora, Colo., classroom for the first time this year and found her students' writing was "substantially better."
"I feel that often the debate isn't about the learning," said Cuthbertson, who also trains teachers to use the new standards as part of her job with a virtual teacher leadership initiative called the Center for Teaching Quality. "We're not talking about what the kids are producing and doing with these cool standards. We're talking about the big brother federal government controlling curriculum. I don't think it's really grounded in student learning, and yet in the hands of teachers focused on student learning, I just think there is nothing but hope."
While the federal government wasn't involved in developing the standards, it has provided $350 million to two consortiums developing Common Core tests. The federal Education Department also encouraged states to adopt the standards to compete for "Race to the Top" grants and seek waivers around some of the unpopular proficiency requirements of the No Child Left Behind federal education act.
"They have done some things that have kind of muddied the waters at the very least," said Butcher of the Goldwater Institute. "It's hard for me to say, 'Well, clearly the federal government has no interest in this.'"
But in Michigan, where the Republican-led Legislature is taking steps aimed at halting the standards, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is defending them as a "really important opportunity" for the state.
"Unfortunately, it's been too much about politics," he said. "It's being viewed as the federal government putting another federal mandate on us. ... It was the governors of the states getting together ... to say we want a partner at the national level and all levels to say, 'Let's raise the bar.'"
Associated Press writers Chris Blank in Jefferson City, Mo., John Milburn in Topeka, Kan., Alanna Durkin in Lansing, Mich., Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta, Tom LoBianco in Indianapolis, Phillip Rawls in Montgomery, Ala., Seanna Adcox in Columbia, S.C., Michelle Price in Salt Lake City, Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pa., and Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.
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