Education policy fight will define GOP
A political war is brewing in Utah and it's not going to be fought by traditional partisan foes.
This war is Republican on Republican. It's over the future of education and the best way to prepare students for the workforce to spur economic development.
More broadly, this war is for the soul of the Utah Republican Party.
Nearly 100 prominent executives representing almost all of Utah's most respected business enterprises signed a newspaper ad that ran a few weeks ago pledging their support to the multi-state effort called Common Core the set of math and language arts standards developed by education experts from 45 states.
The ad was sponsored by Prosperity2020, made up of business leaders whose main goal is growing the economy.
The signers are from such corporations as Questar, Comcast, Zions Bank, Wells Fargo, KeyBank, JPMorgan Chase, America First Credit Union, Fidelity Investments, Rocky Mountain Power, Intermountain Health Care, Economic Development Corp. of Utah, Ivory Homes, the Boyer Company, Leavitt Partners and City Creek/Tubman, to name a few.
They also include prominent members of the banking pioneer Eccles family, former Utah Gov. Olene Walker and the Salt Lake and Sandy Chambers of Commerce, and an official of the LDS Church.
Most of them are Republicans and have been strong supporters of the GOP and its candidates.
Contrast that effort to the anti-Common Core campaign at the Legislature led by conservative groups like the Eagle Forum and citizen-based coalitions that hosted a conference earlier and invited legislators to hear their concerns.
Most of the speakers were from national right-wing think tanks and several had ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that has spawned ideas legislators have taken back to their states and turned into laws.
That group believes Common Core is a conspiracy by the federal government to take over education and, among the Utah conspiracy theorists, usurp the values that are commonly held in the Beehive State.
Many of that position's advocates are Republicans who rose to power recently with the tea party wave, whose tenets are that the federal government has too much power and state rights are being threatened.
But Prosperity2020 points out that Common Core grew out of discussions within the National Governors Association and those involved in its development came from the member states, not the federal government.
"We believe in the Common Core," said Natalie Gochnour, an official with the Salt Lake Chamber and Leavitt Partners, and a member of Prosperity2020.
"We are a business-led group," she said of Prosperity2020. "There are no educators on our executive council."
Added Nolan Karras, the former speaker of the Utah House: "We don't have enough people ready for college. We don't have enough trained employees for what we need to compete in the 21st century.
"We need more rigorous standards and we need accountability."
Both Karras and Gochnour stress that the executive branch and the Legislature appropriately set the goals for education.
But it should be up to the education community, the experts, to put in the framework needed to meet those goals.
The anti-Common Core group has shown it does not trust public school teachers.
Their supporters in the Legislature have passed laws and administrative rules that basically tell educators whom to hire, what education providers to contract with and what kind of classes they should teach.
Both groups, dominated by Republicans, will be fighting hard for their competing principles at the next session of the Legislature, also dominated by Republicans.