The Indiana Senate approved a broad-ranging bill Wednesday that, among other things, halts the rollout of the Common Core academic standards in the state’s schools, pending a General Assembly-led review.
Opponents of the proposal say the fight isn’t over. They’re pushing for bill to go to a conference committee where House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis — a staunch supporter of the nationally-crafted standards — might be able to negotiate with Senate lawmakers to remove language pausing Common Core implementation.
“It’s not over yet,” Behning told StateImpact Tuesday. “The discussions will continue.”
But supporters of the “pause” proposal say it won’t come to that, hoping to pull off the legislative equivalent of an end-run around Common Core backers and straight to Gov. Mike Pence’s desk.
Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, wrote the original bill halting the standards’ introduction in the state’s classrooms. (Kindergarten and first grade teachers have already started teaching to Common Core standards, which 45 states plus the District of Columbia have adopted. The current plan is to roll out the standards in second grade next school year and all of K-12 by 2014.)
The Senate in February passed a bill by 38-11 margin putting a hold on the standards’ implementation. Behning then blocked the measure from a vote in the House — he never brought it up for a hearing in the committee he chairs. But last week, Schneider amended HB 1427, another education bill that had already passed the House, to include the “halt” language from his original, dead proposal.
What happens next?
House bills that Senate lawmakers later amend return to the House for a final time. If the bill’s original author agrees to the changes, or “concurs,” the House takes up the measure for a final vote. If the bill’s original author doesn’t agree to the changes, the bill goes to a conference committee where House and Senate lawmakers meet to hash out their bills’ differences.
Behning said Tuesday the House Republican caucus usually decides together whether the original author will concur or send the bill to conference committee, telling StateImpact “the intent would be that we would probably take [HB 1427] to a conference committee.”
But Schneider says he’s optimistic the House will go the other direction, taking the measure up for a final vote.
—Heather Crossin, Hoosiers Against Common Core
What’s At Stake For Schools?
Schneider’s amendment to HB 1427 convenes a legislative study committee to examine the standards and study their fiscal impact on Indiana schools. By November 1, that committee would have to report to the State Board of Education, which would then make a final decision on whether to diverge from the standards.
Currently in his second Senate term, Schneider says his opposition is “an issue of whether or not we’re gong to cede education policy to forces outside the state of Indiana, whether that’s a consortium, group or the federal government. We’ve lost a substantial amount on education policymaking in Indiana. Fundamentally, that’s inherently wrong.”
But Christina Lear, who teaches tenth grade English at Herron High School, says the Common Core’s focus on preparing kids for college is helping her students learn.
“Educators that are using it currently in their classroom are pleased with it. To me, that’s the most important piece of information that we need,” Lear told StateImpact while she attended a Statehouse hearing to voice her opposition to Schneider’s amendment.
Representatives of pro-Common Core advocacy groups add that pausing implementation of the standards will only cause headaches for school officials.
“Teachers in elementary and middle and high school have already started using these principles… They’re already purchasing textbooks and aligning curriculum to match the Common Core. There’s going to be a very large expense” attached to pausing implementation, says Jay Kenworthy, communications director for Stand for Children Indiana.
“When we’re telling schools who have already gone three-quarters of the way toward implementation,” Kenworthy adds, “that’s a big issue.”
Pause For Review, But Let Schools Play On?
Behning introduced a counter-measure he says is “closer to the middle ground.” His amendment to SB 493 doesn’t call for a halt to Common Core implementation, but does call for a legislative review of the standards’ academic and financial impacts.
“I do believe that my language is a little bit more of a compromise. I’m willing to consider having meetings,” Behning says, adding he believes Schneider’s ultimate purpose is likely to “kill the Common Core.”
But Heather Crossin, an Indianapolis parent who leads the group Hoosiers Against Common Core, says Behning’s counter-proposal is “smoke and mirrors.”
“The notion that legislators can vote for Senate Bill 493 and appear to be sympathetic to those who oppose the Common Core, that’s simply not going to fly. Nobody’s going to be fooled by that,” Crossin says.
“It’s an issue,” Crossin adds, “that people on the left and right, parents and teachers have shown great concern with, and once and for all, it’s time to have a thorough review” of the Common Core.