The nation’s top education official confirmed Wednesday that Utah — not the federal government — is in charge of setting its own academic standards.
But it was unclear Wednesday evening whether that assurance by Education Secretary Arne Duncan would deter Utah lawmakers from backing a resolution asking the state school board to "reconsider" its adoption of Common Core academic standards.
The Senate passed the resolution, SCR13, 21-6 on Wednesday and sent it to the House despite months of commitments from state education leaders that Utah is not losing local control by using the standards, which outline the concepts students should learn in each grade to be ready for college and careers. The standards were developed as part of a states-led initiative.
Resolution sponsor Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, said, "It’s great to see that the federal government has taken a stand to reinforce states’ rights." Osmond said the letter was something to take into consideration, but added he didn’t feel Wednesday night that it would make him want to give up on the resolution. He says concerns aren’t just about state sovereignty but also about cost.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, who has been a staunch critic of federal involvement in education, said the letter doesn’t change her mind.
"It’s nice to have it in letters. It’s nice that they’ve had a nice kumbaya communication, but it’s even more effective to have in [state] code exactly what our triggers are for getting out of any federal regulations, out of any state consortium and it’s nice to have a resolution that explains what we’re doing," Dayton said, also referring to a bill, SB287, that earned final passage Wednesday. That bill outlines how Utah may "exit any agreement, contract, memorandum of understanding, or consortium that cedes control of Utah’s core curriculum standards to any other entity."
State education leaders are disturbed by the resolution.
"I’m disappointed that there are a few in the state who don’t yet see the value of college and career-readiness standards for our students," said Debra Roberts, state school board chairwoman.
State Superintendent Larry Shumway also said he was troubled to see Gov. Gary Herbert join in the resolution asking the board to reconsider. As a concurrent resolution, the measure requires sign-off by the governor for final passage.
"One doesn’t ask to reconsider if you thought the decision was right, and in this case, the governor is joining in a resolution asking the board to reconsider on a decision that he has vocally supported," Shumway said.
Ally Isom, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the Governor’s Office was "comfortable" with the resolution.
"The governor’s primary focus is to raise the bar on educational standards to ensure our schoolchildren can compete in a global economy," Isom said in an e-mail. "But at the heart of that focus is a commitment to Utah-driven standards, based on input from parents and local education experts."
Duncan’s message Wednesday came in response to a letter Shumway sent to him Monday, affirming Utah’s right to control its academic standards and to use or not use the Common Core as it sees fit.
Duncan expressed the U.S. Department of Education’s "full and unqualified agreement" with Shumway’s letter.
"States have the sole right to set learning standards," Duncan wrote.
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