Other than someone who is a father of six kids and wants to have great schools, my interest shouldn’t be more than that. Keep the federal government out of education, let the states and the local districts take care of that. —Rep. Chris Stewart
SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Chris Stewart, the newest addition to Utah's federal delegation, said he believes in state's rights, has concerns with Common Core and is optimistic that Congress can reach an agreement on immigration reform and the budget, despite the sequester being here to stay for 2013.
"I just think, politically, it’s impossible to go back and address sequestration for this year," he said. "What we’re hoping is that we have a budget process that works for the next year and that we can eliminate some of that pressure."
Stewart was in Bountiful and Salt Lake City on Tuesday visiting with elementary school students in his district. At Franklin Elementary, students welcomed Stewart by singing patriotic songs and reciting the preamble to the United States Constitution before receiving a brief civics lesson on the Bill of Rights and the proper role of government from the first-term congressman.
He emphasized to students that political power in the United States belongs with the people rather than the government and that preserving the proper role of government was key to addressing issues like gun control and immigration.
"The Constitution was created to protect too much power from going to the government," Stewart told students in Kristen Valdez' fifth-grade class.
Stewart also spoke briefly to students about his experience as an Air Force pilot, the books he's written, his world record for the fastest nonstop flight around the world and meeting President Barack Obama.
"I don't agree with him on everything, but he's our president and I want to respect him," Stewart said. "He's trying hard."
Stewart was elected in November to Utah's 2nd Congressional District, the seat occupied by Rep. Jim Matheson prior to the creation of a fourth Utah district. District 2 now runs the western edge of the state from St. George to downtown Salt Lake City. Stewart has been working to visit some of the schools in his political jurisdiction, making stops in southern Utah prior to his visits this week to Davis and Salt Lake counties.
On the subject of education, Stewart said management and governance is best handled at the state and local district level rather than by him and his colleagues in Washington. That contributes to his skepticism of the Common Core State Standards – a series of educational benchmarks adopted by all but four states and recently opposed by both the national and Utah Republican parties.
"Other than someone who is a father of six kids and wants to have great schools, my interest shouldn’t be more than that," he said. "Keep the federal government out of education, let the states and the local districts take care of that."
Speaking as a resident of Utah, Stewart said the state doesn't face the same level of inner-city poverty and challenges seen by more densely populated areas of the country. But he said Utah's schools are not without their concerns, chief among them being adequately funded.
Utah's schools are currently the lowest funded in the country in terms of per-pupil spending. In March, the state Legislature approved one of the largest education budget increases in several years, but school districts around the state continue to feel the pinch of decreased federal funding as a result of the sequester.
Stewart said lawmakers are constantly hearing from representatives of public sectors that were affected by the federal budget cuts. He said he was optimistic that lawmakers would be able to come together to address government spending beyond the short-term budget measures that have dominated debate in Washington for the last several years.
"It's everywhere, it's Department of Defense, it's education, it's environmental policy," he said. "I really think there's political pressure building to where we don't do this every year like we've been doing."