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Bills to Reject Common Core Fall Short in South Dakota

Through our bill tracker, which follows efforts by some state lawmakers to drop the Common Core State Standards, I've tried to keep you up to date on the progress of such efforts. It's more difficult to imagine a large-scale effort across many states to drop the new standards next year, if only because education departments, officials, and the technology will be that much closer to full implementation of the standards and the first use of the new common-core-based assessments for the 2014-15 school year. And obviously more state K-12 budgets will have been spent to get states ready. So 2013 is a crucial year for those who believe the standards are bad policy, a bad overreach by the U.S. Department of Education, or both.

So it's worth updating you quickly on the fate of two anti-common-core pieces of legislation in South Dakota, only one of which is actually included in my bill tracker. That one, House Bill 1204, passed the lower chamber by a four-vote margin. It would have required the state board of education to receive legislative approval before moving ahead with common-core implementation—obviously, if the board had to get approval from lawmakers who passed such a bill, it's hard to imagine that approval being easy to come by. But that bill, despite its success in the House, failed to pass muster with senators.

Another bill, House Bill 1203, was narrower in scope but would still affect many schools. It would have allowed private schools to get accreditation from the state without adopting the common core, or to put it another way, to "opt out" of using the new standards without losing their accreditation. I've had common-core foes tell me that the standards also represent a weakening of charter schools, since they would lose flexibility over any creative content standards they might want to use, and this legislation seems like a corollary of that argument.

One interesting wrinkle in South Dakota is that the man who behind both bills, Rep. Jim Bolin, a Republican, is a former teacher, who said he introduced them because the common core represents "an attack on the local authority of people to run their own schools." In an April 5 interview with Heartlander magazine (published by the Heartland Institute, which opposes the standards), Bolin also noted that both the state education department and the administration of Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, didn't like what he was up to.

This touches on a tough nut to crack for common-core foes. Aside from governors in states that have stayed out of the common core in the first place, state chief executives have for the most part not voiced support for efforts like Bolin's. Would common-core opponents have had more success if more gubernatorial elections had taken place in 2012, not 2010? While states adopted the common core prior to the 2010 elections, the standards were not as broadly understood on a state policy and political level as they are now or were last year. Perhaps common-core opponents, more numerous and energized now than in 2010, could have convinced at least a few newly elected executives in 2013 that the core was a vestige of the last regime and should be sloughed off.

In a separate April 8 article on the Heartland Institute's website, however, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence expressed at least some of the concern core opponents want to hear. He said "he believed states created Common Core but the federal government has begun to get overly involved." The article indicated that Pence might ultimately decide that Indiana could "mimic" Virginia in developing its own content standards, but comparing them to common core "so teachers can use Common Core materials."

Still, I haven't seen any comments where he expressed explicit support for the actual legislation in his own state opposing the core, which I discussed in my previous post. If a sufficient number of House members don't agree to it, either in a floor vote or in conference discussions, the effort won't succeed.

Pence would be the first governor to sign legislation reversing a state's course on common core. The prime anti-common-core legislator in Indiana, GOP Sen. Scott Schneider, told me earlier this week he doesn't see himself as a standard-bearer in any kind of national context, but his anti-common-core allies may end up seeing him that way.

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