June 4, 2014

Fallin Weighs Political Factors in Common Core Decision

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Nate Robson

Nate Robson

EDUCATION WATCH BLOG
June 4, 2014

In many respects, Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision on whether to retain the Common Core academic standards in Oklahoma involves political calculations.

Fallin has until Saturday to decide whether she will repeal Common Core State Standards just as districts are supposed to be implementing the standards for the 2014-2015 school year. A decision either way could sway the votes of many parents and educators heading to the polls for the June 24 primary or Nov. 4 general election — or at least affect the intensity of support or opposition this year.

Fallin is facing two Republican primary challengers for governor in Chad Moody and Dax Ewbank. The winner of the Republican nomination will face Democrat Joe Dorman.

Opponents of the standards call them a federal takeover of state education, while supporters say the standards ensure students are better prepared for college or the workforce. In Oklahoma, educators have said the state failed to provide the resources to properly implement the new standards.

Democrats like Rep. Mike Shelton, Oklahoma City, believe the popular decision with parents is to sign the bill, but that means abandoning a policy Fallin once supported. Shelton voted against repealing Common Core.

Fallin drew criticism from many parents and teachers this year by vetoing a bill that would allow school panels of parents, teachers, reading specialists and administrators to decide if third graders who fail the state’s reading test can still advance to fourth grade.

That change is only in place for the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years. The House and Senate quickly overrode the veto with strong bipartisan support.

Vetoing the Common Core bill could potentially give more ammunition to Dorman in a general election. Dorman voted in favor of the changes to the state’s reading retention law and voted in favor of repealing Common Core.

Common Core has already been used as election fodder this year in Ohio and Indiana. Anti-Common Core platforms were also not enough to help Republican challengers for governor in South Dakota and Iowa Tuesday. Both states have adopted the Common Core.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad cruised to a comfortable victory against his primary opponent Tom Hoefling, and in South Dakota, state Rep. Lora Hubbel was trounced by incumbent Gov. Dennis Dugaard.

Oklahoma parents have said they are waiting to see how Fallin handles the standards here. Some parents have said Fallin lost their support when she vetoed changes to the reading retention law.

Still, among such parents who are Republicans, would switching to another GOP candidate in the primary really make a difference, since Fallin is heavily favored? Would they vote for Dorman instead in November based on one or two issues?

On the other hand, would vetoing the bill affect Fallin’s long-range political ambitions within her party? Her visitor log shows that an official with the Republican National Committee, which came out against Common Core more than a year ago, met with her on May 30, although it’s unknown if they discussed Common Core.

One factor in Fallin’s decision is that if she signs the repeal bill, she rejects the view of fellow Republican and State Superintendent Janet Barresi, who is in a close primary race with challengers Joy Hofmeister and Brian Kelly. Barresi also opposed changes to the state’s reading retention law.

Fallin has not yet signaled whether she will sign the bill.

Fallin and her staff have been seeking input from a variety of citizens, educators and experts. For example, her office reached out to Keith Gaddie, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma, to get insight on how a decision might play out politically. Gaddie said Tuesday he told the staff member that he hadn’t yet thought through all of the implications.

Fallin’s office has received scores of calls and emails from organizations across the state and nation urging her to sign or veto the bill. She is meeting parents and education leaders this week. The governor’s guest log shows she met with five parents on Tuesday.

Fallin has received letters and pressure from groups such as Stand for Children Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association asking Fallin to veto the bill and keep Common Core in place. On the other side, the Home School Legal Defense Association and Restore Oklahoma Public Education are marshaling support for the bill.

Nate Robson can be reached at nrobson@oklahomawatch.org

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