Looking to calm a rising furor in the grass roots of his party, Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday that a state set of revisions to nationwide education standards will be unveiled next week.
One day after a caucus of the Republican Party of Florida’s state committeemen and committeewomen backed a non-binding resolution opposing the Common Core standards, Scott also said he would support legislation specifying that curriculum is a local responsibility and limiting what information can be gathered about students.
Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said earlier this week that her department would propose about 40 changes to the voluminous education benchmarks. Scott’s remarks Saturday, to the annual meeting of the state GOP, signaled that he hopes the changes will soothe conservative fears about the standards.
“Here’s what we’re going to ensure: These are Florida standards,” he said. “They’re not some national standards; they’re going to be Florida standards. This is our state. We’re not going to have the federal government telling us how to do our education system.”
The overwhelming majority of the changes Stewart is set to propose would add material to the state’s version of the standards, officials say.
Common Core started out as a joint project by officials in about four dozen states, but some conservatives have grown worried that the standards will instead lead to unprecedented federal intrusion in local schools. The opposition to the guidelines has opened a rift on the right between those arguing against the benchmarks and members of the school accountability movement, like former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who backs the standards.
On Saturday, Scott spoke about legislative proposals only in vague terms. He did not stop to answer questions despite shouted requests from reporters who jogged toward him as he left the Rosen Centre Hotel.
But any measure spelling out the role of local school boards in curriculum might affect Common Core only at the margins, if at all. Supporters insist that the new standards only outline what students are expected to learn, while curriculum is still controlled at the local level.
The governor has tried before to get rid of concerns about Common Core, issuing an executive order in September that began distancing the state from a separate multi-state consortium building tests based on the standards. Scott also ordered the review of the benchmarks that led to Stewart’s proposed changes.
Rep. Debbie Mayfield, a Vero Beach Republican who has sponsored anti-Common Core legislation, said after Scott’s remarks Saturday that she was “perfectly happy with the direction the governor’s going in.” But she suggested that simply adding more material to the Common Core standards might not satisfy critics.
Mayfield has filed legislation (HB 25) intended to stop the standards from fully taking effect in Florida.
“If we have our own standards and if we have our own assessment, then what is the purpose of being in Common Core?” she asked Saturday.
Meanwhile, Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry told the party’s executive board Saturday that he would refer Friday’s Common Core resolution to the RPOF’s legislative affairs committee. The executive board is not expected to vote on the measure.
Friday’s non-biding vote opposing common core, by a caucus of state committeemen and committeewomen, was part of the run-up to Saturday’s annual party meeting. RPOF officials, speaking on background, quickly moved to downplay the significance of the vote against the guidelines. But the vote also seemed to show that resistance to the standards has not died down since Gov. Rick Scott ordered the state Department of Education to begin backing away from a test based on Common Core and to review the standards.
Discussion at Friday’s meeting mostly centered around some conservatives’ concerns that the standards would mark an unprecedented federal intrusion into education, despite the fact that the development of Common Core was spearheaded by officials from about four dozen states.
Mary Ann Russell, the state committeewoman from St. Lucie County, said Republican activists who worked to elect Scott in 2010 were opposed to the standards.
“They are dead-set against this massive federal government overtake of our education system,” Russell said. “And where we’re heading is to a very socialist country.”
Eric Miller, the committeeman from Martin County, said the caucus could begin to “run this progressive element out of our party and out of this country” by voting for the resolution.
“Folks, once they’ve got the kids, and they’ve got their minds, you might as well sit down; it’s over from there,” he said.
But opponents of the resolution, including critics of Common Core, said the caucus should focus its efforts less on staking out policy positions and more on electing Republicans.
“This sounds like a school board meeting. … This is not what our job is,” said Deborah Ricks, committeewoman from Clay County.
The RPOF officials said it was unlikely the party’s board would take up the issue. Instead, Chairman Lenny Curry is expected to refer the matter to the party’s legislative affairs committee.
–News Service of Florida