In the midst of three weeks of hearings on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Ohio lawmakers introduced H.B. 597, a bill that would repeal the controversial standards and require the state to develop new standards that would go into effect in the 2017-2018 school year. In the interim, Ohio would use standards the state of Massachusetts used before they adopted the CCSS.
But according to former State Representative Diana Fessler, H.B. 597 (and Sub. H.B. 597, which replaced the original placeholder bill) is nothing more than “a tool for political gain” designed to protect Republicans in upcoming elections. Fessler explained the political maneuvering in an article at Ohio Conservative Review:
In August of 2013, Rep. Thompson (R-Marietta) introduced House Bill 237 to repeal Common Core (CC) in Ohio. The bill never budged. In an attempt to give the bill some traction, Rep. John Adams (R-Sidney) introduced a discharge petition. The bill still didn’t budge.
Anytime during the past year, Rep. Huffman, Speaker Pro Tempore of the House (the second highest position in the House) could have used his high rank to advocate for a good bill, HB 237. Instead, Rep. Huffman co-sponsored a new bill, HB 597. The new bill functionally rendered both HB 237 and the discharge petition moot.
The new bill, HB 597, an education bill, was not assigned to the House Education Committee. Instead, in a bizarre move, it was assigned to the House Rules and Reference Committee — a committee chaired by none other than Rep. Huffman. HB 597 sets Rep. Huffman up to tout advocacy for anti-CC legislation when he runs for Senator Faber’s open Senate seat in 2016.
The House Rules Committee is run by top House GOP leaders and rarely hears bills. Chairman Huffman replaced several members of the Committee prior to the hearings, including John Adams (R-Sidney) a leading proponent of the repeal effort. Adams and Huffman are expected to face off in 2016 for Faber’s open Senate seat.
Fessler says that the tight timeline makes it virtually impossible for Sub. H.B. 597 to pass before the end of the House legislative calendar. Chairman Huffman has said the full House will not vote on the bill until after the November election, which would leave less than two weeks for a bill to be introduced in the Senate and make it through the conference committee process before the legislative session ends.
According to Fessler:
If either chamber rejects the Committee’s new version of the bill, the bill dies (but the record of how members voted will stand and those votes will be touted during the 2016 elections). Accordingly, the greatest political advantage would come from both Chambers passing an anti-CC bill that later gets “hung up” in the Conference Committee or fails to gain ratification in both chambers.
The second greatest political advantage, and the one most likely in play, would come from just the House passing the bill and then letting the clock run out.
Passage of Substitute HB 597 by the House meets an important political objective: it ensures that specific Republicans in contested 2016 primaries will be able to portray themselves as being against Common Core. Ultimately, some candidates, including a certain chairman, will proclaim that they fought to repeal CC but, sadly, forces beyond their control prevailed. [emphasis added]
Governor Kasich stated unequivocally that he plans equivocate on the issue as long as possible. “I hope they turn over some good information [at the hearings],” the governor told reporters during a stop in suburban Columbus. “If there’s more to do, we’ll take a really good look at it.” He refused to say if he would sign the repeal bill if it made it to his desk. “We’re just going to keep an eye on all of this.”
Kasich, who took a beating in the early months of his tenure as governor in his failed attempt to reform public sector unions, refused to offer an opinion on the CCSS or the repeal bill. “I just want to have high standards, and I want to make sure we maintain local control so local school boards and local parents are the ones that design the curriculum to meet the standards,” he said. “We need high standards. We don’t need interference from Columbus or Washington to get this done. It should be done locally. If there’s an erosion of local control, then we’re just going to be in a position that we’re going to change things. We don’t want to erode local control in any way.”
Melanie Elsey, National Legislative Director of American Policy Roundtable said, “The Common Core State Standards starts with the weakest strategies in outcome-based education, adds an irrational list of expectations (some too low and some too high), subtracts teacher creativity, adds assessments that are not transparent, multiplies the frustration of parents…and we have the sum total of the worst system in the history of public and private education.” She added that, “Policies have consequences. Ohio’s students will be better served if current policies supporting Common Core State Standards are repealed.”
Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina), and Education Committee Chairman Senator Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) hold the keys to the repeal effort in the Senate. If the Senate introduces a CCSS repeal bill now, hearings can begin on their end, speeding along the process and increasing the odds that reconciliation can be achieved before the end of the legislative session. However, neither Faber nor Lehner have shown any political will to repeal the CCSS. In fact, Lehner tweeted during the hearings, “OMG … three sets of standards in four years! They have to be kidding.”
Meanwhile, hearings continue on the standards and the repeal bill and lawmakers on the Rules committee are being forced to sit through some excellent, well-informed testimony on the perils of continuing with the CCSS. There is a small chance these voices of reason will be able to cut through all the spin and the political maneuvering and cause these lawmakers to take action to rescue Ohio’s children from the subpar, dangerous CCSS standards.