SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's governor and attorney general assured Tuesday that the state's adoption of the Common Core did not violate any laws and has not compromised the state's control over its own curriculums.
Gov. Gary Herbert called for a review of the Common Core State Standards in July after a growing divide that he says is fueled by both true and untrue information became "divisive and unhealthy."
The review is the first of several steps in resolving concerns about who directs Utah's education system and what standards should be in place for students.
"We want to work together in this journey over the next two or three months to resolve any questions out there and hopefully ensure to everybody's satisfaction that Utah is, in fact, in control of its education from top to bottom," Herbert said.
While the governor said he hopes the legal analysis will alleviate the fears of some in the state, those who are "looking for a villain" will continue looking.
Speaking at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, Attorney General Sean Reyes explained that his office analyzed a series of legal questions, including whether the State School Board ceded control of state standards and curriculums to the federal government, whether any partnerships have gained indirect control of state curriculums, and whether the state received federal funds to adopt the Common Core State Standards.
The answer to those questions, Reyes said, is no.
The attorney general summarized the findings of the seven-page review, which addresses five series of questions posed by the governor.
The Utah State Board of Education issued a statement Tuesday voicing support for Reyes' findings, saying they confirmed the board "acted ethically and in compliance with the state constitution and state law" in adopting the Common Core four years ago.
Sydnee Dickson, interim deputy state superintendent, said she hopes the analysis will ease concerns for some Utahns with questions about the state's education system, but she expects opposition of the Common Core will continue.
"I think this adds to the overall evidence that, indeed, we are in control of education here in this state," Dickson said.
The Common Core State Standards are a series of educational benchmarks aimed at preparing students for higher education by defining the skills in math and English that should be mastered at each grade level.
Utah adopted the Common Core in 2010 along with the majority of the nation, but backlash has required participating states to defend their adoption, and in some instances implementation has been put on hold or abandoned outright.
A poll released by UtahPolicy.com last month found that 41 percent of participants opposed the Common Core compared with 29 percent who support the standards. The remaining 30 percent responded that they were either neutral or "didn't know."
Connor Boyack, founder of the Libertas Institute and a member of the group Utahns Against Common Core, disagreed with the findings Tuesday and criticized the attorney general's analysis, saying it did not actually answer the concerns being raised across the state.
The Libertas Institute, a libertarian advocacy organization, is footing the bill for a lawsuit filed in late July by six educators and parents who claim they were denied an opportunity to be consulted prior to the Common Core's adoption. The lawsuit seeks an order barring further implementation of the education standards.
Reyes' analysis, Boyack said, addresses whether there were public meetings surrounding the Common Core's adoption, but the the lawsuit delves deeper into whether the State School Board consulted with the groups most impacted by the standards.
"Specific behavior was required of the board that was not done. That is the basis of our lawsuit, and that was not responded to by the attorney general," Boyack said. "Our allegations still stand, and we're confident that a judge will determine that the board, in fact, did not comply with the law."
Reyes referred to the lawsuit Tuesday but did not discuss it directly.
Boyack said he agreed with Herbert that the Common Core has become a bitter battlefield across the state, one that he believes will follow the governor through his next re-election bid.
"This review, which doesn't actually address the criticisms, makes clear to those critics that their concerns aren't actually being addressed," he said. "This issue is not going to go away. It's going to continue to foment."
Moving forward, Herbert said Tuesday that the state's focus should be setting and meeting high academic standards for Utah students, limiting the federal government's involvement in state education, and preserving control of standards and curriculum for state and local school boards.
Additionally, the governor reported on the first meeting of the state's Standards Review Panel, which will be evaluating state curriculums in order to ensure the standards set are acceptable to Utahns and will help students be sufficiently prepared for college and careers.
Over the next few months, the panel will conduct an independent review of Utah curriculums to be presented to the State School Board.
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