Oklahomans Try This One Weird Trick to Get Common Core Bill Heard
Hundreds of Oklahomans have repeatedly rallied to the statehouse in the past two years to protest Common Core national curriculum and testing mandates and urge lawmakers to support legislation repealing it. But Senate Education Committee Chairman John Ford (R-Bartlesville) refused to hold a hearing on any such bill.
Two lawmakers decided to get around that one-man roadblock by taking a bill that had already passed through Ford’s committee, stripping out the language inside, and amending in a bill to repeal Common Core and establish a pilot program to test new potential standards. Sens. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) and Anthony Sykes (R-Moore) introduced their amendment to Senate Bill 1764 Friday.
Killing the Bill
On Tuesday, Common Core supporters added another amendment to the bill that Common Core opponents say neuters it entirely. Then, late Wednesday, Senate leadership refused to bring the amended bill to a floor vote. The Senate bill is dead, but a House version (HB 3399) remains. It was debated on the floor of the House late Wednesday night, and passed around 11 p.m. Central, with a vote 78-12 in favor.
“It's never been about kids or parents, it’s about ‘the Chamber of Commerce can help me with my campaign,’” said Jenni White, co-founder of Restore Oklahoma Public Education, a grassroots watchdog that opposes Common Core. The Oklahoma and U.S. Chambers of Commerce have been leaning on Republican lawmakers to repel grassroots attempts to uproot Common Core.
Common Core is a list of what several private organizations think all children should learn in K-12 math and English. The federal government is sponsoring national tests that will measure how well kids have learned it, and the Obama administration has pushed states to adopt the benchmarks and tests in exchange for federal funds. Forty-five states have done so, and at least 23 this spring are reconsidering that choice.
“It’s time that Oklahoma’s legislators respond to their constituents and address Common Core’s aim at our children,” Sykes said in a statement. “We have ceded state control to out-of-state interest groups. Addressing the statutes may not be enough. The state Department of Education’s administrative rules need to be repealed.”
Two Years Respite
SB 1764 and its companion would order the state board of education to remove all testing and standards alignment with Common Core; prohibit the state from entering any agreement that cedes state discretion over standards, assessments, or student data to outside or federal entities; and establish a standards pilot program that lets local boards experiment with standards as long as they meet or exceed Oklahoma standards. The state would revert to its previous standards for two years while writing new, Oklahoma-controlled standards and choosing tests to fit them.
Those two years would give the determined grassroots network in the state time to elect a new superintendent and more lawmakers who oppose Common Core, White said. The mother of five spoke from the statehouse halls, where she’s been pacing back and forth among lawmaker offices.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and state Superintendent Janet Barresi have championed Common Core, both in state and nationwide. Fallin is currently chair of the National Governors Association, a trade organization that helped write Common Core.
“You need to listen to the people. This is a parents’ issue, it is not a special interest issue. The parents are the ones dealing with the fallout of this, not the special interests, not the Chamber of Commerce, not Stand for Children,” White said. “Any governor who chooses to overlook parents is overlooking voters.”
By putting the Common Core language in a bill that has already passed committee, it means the will not have a public hearing but simply an up-or-down vote in both houses. Oklahoma lawmakers spent four days in public hearings studying Common Core in fall 2013.
Brecheen, Ford, and Sykes were unavailable for comment, staff said.
Image by Mary Fallin.