North Carolina on Wednesday moved closer to becoming the second state to abandon national teaching standards, a move that thrust education to the front of the U.S. Senate race.
The House voted 78-39 to repeal the Common Core standards. A Senate committee passed a similar bill hours earlier. Both votes fell largely along party lines.
North Carolina would become the only state besides Indiana to repeal the standards, which had been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.
The debate over Common Core came as state school officials blasted cuts to education in the $21.2 billion budget passed by the Republican-led Senate. In a letter to lawmakers, State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey – a former state GOP chairman – warned that cuts to public schools would be “significant and destructive.”
The House is expected to vote on its version of the budget next week.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan supports Common Core. Although House Speaker Thom Tillis of Huntersville did not vote on the House bill, a spokesman said he supports repeal.
Opposition to Common Core has become a sort of litmus test for many conservatives, who see it as an intrusion into state authority and who say North Carolina can devise better standards itself.
In the Republican primary, tea party activists and the group FreedomWorks criticized Tillis for his endorsements by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, both supporters of Common Core.
Spokesman Daniel Keylin said Wednesday that although Tillis believes in rigorous standards, “he does not believe Common Core is the best fit for North Carolina.”
“That’s why he supports replacing it with an improved education plan tailored specifically to North Carolina that gives more flexibility to educators, teachers, and parents to better meet the needs of our students,” Keylin said in a statement.
Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said the senator believes Common Core offers the best avenue to high standards.
“But rigorous standards are only helpful if we are making the needed investments in education – investments that Speaker Tillis has abandoned in favor of a special interest agenda,” she said.
New standards for N.C.
Both House and Senate bills would drop Common Core on July 1. A new Academic Standards Review Commission would be charged with coming up with new standards to propose to the State Board of Education.
State Superintendent June Atkinson said that would make teachers “go back to the drawing board.”
“The big question,” she told a news conference, “is why would you want to pile on another level of frustration for our teachers?”
Earlier, Guilford County educator Mark Jewell, a vice president of the N.C. Association of Educators, urged the Senate panel not to repeal the standards.
“Our Common Core standards are providing a rigorous framework for classroom teachers,” he said.
Common Core standards were developed by a nonprofit called Achieve, a group of businesses and elected leaders whose supporters included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2009, it partnered with the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers to develop the standards, which were released in 2010.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Randolph County Republican who co-sponsored the repeal bill, said, “North Carolina can do a better job.”
“We ought to own our own standards,” he told his colleagues. “We ought not farm it out to a conglomerate of anybody. … It’s not a political issue for me at all. It’s about what’s right for North Carolina.”
Budget cuts and raises
In addition to standards, education budgets are bound to become an issue in the Senate race.
Though the Senate budget includes an 11 percent pay raise for teachers, educators have found much to criticize.
The budget would trade the pay raise for an end to teacher tenure. It would also cut teacher assistants.
Atkinson said it would cut the Department of Public Instruction’s budget by 30 percent, creating problems for districts that depend on it. A string of officials from school districts from as far east as Tyrrell County offered testimonials about their dependence on the department.
Atkinson put the total cuts to classroom budgets at $1.3 billion since 2008.
But GOP senators say the $468 million pay raise would give teachers a much needed raise.
“Studies show teachers – not bureaucrats – have the greatest influence on student achievement,” said Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for GOP Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden. “So we are prioritizing those who directly educate our children and providing the largest teacher pay raise in state history as an incentive for them to stay in the classroom.”