Earlier this week opponents of the “Common Core State Standards” cautiously celebrated their first major victory as Governor Mike Pence signed legislation withdrawing Indiana from the nationalized education program.
But in Georgia, the pro-Common Core big business/big government forces outgunned the grassroots and celebrated victory on the last day of the session last week. A look at their tricks can provide lessons for other states.
Republican State Senator William Ligon was the sponsor of anti-Common Core legislation this year and last. The 2013 version of his SB 167, which called for a complete withdrawal from Common Core, failed to get out of committee. This year’s bill, revised multiple times, also failed to get out of the education committee. Parts of the bill attached as two amendments to another education bill did not get approval on the last day of the session (with some supporters switching their votes).
On the side fighting Common Core and trying to enact legislation that would withdraw Georgia from the national education standards were tea party groups, alarmed parents and grandparents, dissenting teachers, and such groups as Concerned Women for America and American Principles in Action.
But even Democratic teachers and parents who oppose Common Core would not be able to fight the pro-Common Core rent-seekers — lobbyists, the Chamber of Commerce, principals, teachers, superintendents, and public radio and television employees.
The only thing that passed was a resolution to form a study committee on Common Core. But even this was too much for Georgia Democratic State Representative Alisha Thompson Morgan, now running for state school superintendent. In February, Morgan had introduced a House Resolution affirming Georgia’s commitment to Common Core.
To even discuss Common Core in a study committee was crazy talk, she implied in her speech against the measure in the waning hours on the last day. For evidence, she noted, “I’ve heard all kinds of things, like let’s abolish the U.S. Department of Education.” To Morgan, the federal Department of Education protects students: “It’s the federal government’s job to ensure that we don’t violate the rights of students.”
She listed the benefits bestowed by the U.S. Department of Education: the $400 million in stimulus funds in exchange for agreement to the Common Core standards, innovation grants, and data-tracking from “preschool to Ph.D.” Morgan insisted this was not a Democratic or Republican issue. She was speaking as “a mom” of a first-grader, and she was hearing great things from her teacher about Common Core — like developing “critical thinking skills.”
“Why are we still having this conversation?” Morgan asked. No further discussion should be allowed: a March 5 education committee hearing on Ligon’s bill had 68 people testifying, with the vast majority, 58, opposing Ligon’s bill.
“I don’t ever remember so many people testifying,” she said: “It was the first time I recall groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Coalition of 100 Black Men joining together.”
Plus, she had been overwhelmed by emails and other communication from teachers, parents, and citizens pleading to keep Common Core, a claim she repeated from what she had said at the education committee hearings on March 5 and March 12. These Common Core fans, Morgan said, spoke up at “listening sessions” held across the state in the months leading up to the start of the session in January. They greatly outnumbered those who spoke against it — proof that the public supported Common Core.
In spite of Morgan’s arguments, the resolution for a study committee on Common Core passed, but it was the only — and largely symbolic — state level effort against Common Core this year.
Representative Morgan’s characterization of the groundswell of support for Common Core, however, does not fit with what documents obtained from an open records request reveal. Those testifying against Ligon’s bill were largely members of the Chamber of Commerce — and public school employees: teachers, principals, superintendents, and administrators. By my own count, 12 of them came from Tift County, 181 miles to the south of Atlanta, and they used school buses to get there.
They had apparently also used school buses to travel to the “listening sessions” across the state. These were sham forums and used to present a show of openness on the issue. In reality, the establishment, from Republican Governor Nathan Deal to the Education Committee chairman, Brooks Coleman (also a Republican), had made their decisions that Common Core was going to stay. After the testimony of Tift County principal Mickey Weldon at the March 5 education committee hearing, Chairman Brooks Coleman thanked her and those who have been arranging the bus trips: “They bring those buses, and we appreciate them.”