Utah lawmakers make quick work of Common Core questions

Published: Wednesday, May 16 2012 10:28 p.m. MDT

The Utah State Capital building shown in 2007.

Stuart Johnson, File, Deseret Morning News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Questions raised by critics of the Common Core State Standards were dealt with swiftly during Wednesday's meeting of the Interim Education Committee, but opponents said the issue requires more discussion.

Committee staff were asked to give an overview of the standards to lawmakers, notably the timeline that led to Utah's adoption of the controversial education benchmarks and the legal obligations the program presents to the state.

The Common Core State Standards are a set of achievement benchmarks in mathematics and English language arts. They are voluntarily adopted, with the goal of improving college- and career-readiness among students as well as establishing a degree of educational consistency between states.

Angela Stallings, associate general counsel to the committee, said she had reviewed the agreements entered into by the State Office of Education and focused on four questions. To the first two – Can Utah withdraw from the Common Core and can Utah withdraw from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)? – she answered yes.

To the second two – Will Utah be required to use SBAC tests and will Utah be required to disclose personal information of students? – she answered no.

Stallings said the only tool available to the federal government to force or encourage states into adopting a particular education program is federal funding. A state has the ability to withdraw from a particular program, but in some circumstances that decision would be accompanied by a loss of federal dollars.

Currently, there is no federal funding attached to the adoption of the Common Core standards, but some Utahns fear that the department of education will eventually use the program to exert control over the states. They see a parallel between Common Core and the universally unpopular No Child Left Behind, which imposes financial sanctions on states that fail to meet rigidly established performance guidelines.

The Obama administration has offered waivers to states, freeing them from certain provisions of No Child Left Behind without losing federal funding, in exchange for adopting either the Common Core or their own set of college- and career-ready standards. Critics of Common Core see that requirement as a federally funded big-government education mandate thinly veiled as state's rights.

"I think there's more information out there and the legislators need to see a lot more," said Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum.

Ruzicka, like others at Wednesday's meeting, had hoped to address lawmakers but was disappointed when Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, announced that the committee would not accept public comment. She said she was encouraged that Stallings spoke about the influence that federal funding plays in education and did not disagree with any of Stallings conclusions.

"I think there's other things that have to be said," she said. "You have more of an opportunity to get your message across when you can testify."

Following Stalling's remarks, discussion among lawmakers was brief and consisted mostly of clarifying questions to committee staff about the state's adaptive testing requirements. Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-Lehi, expressed some reservations about the core standards, saying the federal government has already demonstrated it's intent to become more involved with the program.

"We need to be extra careful of protecting our ability to leave if they choose to," he said. "I wouldn't hang our hat on the Tenth Amendment."

Email: benwood@desnews.com

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