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Mississippi is in a precarious position regarding the Common Core national academic standards. Amid a large grassroots movement against the K–12 math and English standards, legislators opted to review the standards rather than simply repealing and replacing them.
Common Core opponents in the state are obviously disappointed repeal and replace legislation didn’t pass during this legislative session, but there still may be hope.
The state legislature decided to form a commission to review Common Core. If Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signs Senate Bill 2161 into law, a 15-member commission will make recommendations to the state Board of Education by December about what academic standards to use. They could call for minor changes or a complete overhaul of the standards, according to state legislators. The governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House, and Department of Education would appoint the commission’s 11 voting members. The four others would be nonvoting members. The commission would begin its work on June 1 if Bryant signs the bill into law.
State Sen. Angela Hill (R-Walthall) says she places much of the blame for the failure of stronger repeal and replace legislation on the influence of the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC), the state’s chamber of commerce.
“I believe [MEC’s] support of Common Core is the greatest hindrance to getting a strong bill out of the legislature,” Hill said. “[Its] corporate influence has helped shape education policy such as state funded pre-k, putting more students under the jurisdiction of the Mississippi Department of Education, whose track record of immense support for Common Core down to the K–3 level is contrary to the will of the electorate.”
Hill has worked tirelessly to prove to other state legislators Common Core standards are not good enough academically, are not age-appropriate in many instances, and are an unacceptable federal overreach.
Forest Thigpen, president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, says MEC was less vocal in its support of Common Core than in previous years, but the Common Core review commission may not leave opponents of the standards any better off than they were before.
“It certainly takes steps in that direction to mitigate our acquiescence to federal control,” Thigpen said. “The legislation has some student data provisions that would be good. The steps that it takes towards protecting us from a national curriculum are better than no steps being taken in that direction.
“However, the commission that would be created under this bill has the potential to simply endorse the current standards and not change anything, which would not be good,” Thigpen said. “It depends on who is appointed to the commission.”
Hill says she is confident Common Core will not permanently remain in Mississippi. Repeal and replace legislation will pass, or the standards will be dismantled one piece at a time, she says.
“The Constitution clearly gives the enumerated powers to the federal government, and education is clearly a power reserved for the states,” Hill said. “The comingling of the powers that are deliberately separated in the U.S. Constitution usurps individual rights as well as state sovereignty.”
If the commission to review Common Core is formed, parents, activists, and legislators will have to pay close attention to make sure real change occurs. The commission could easily be misused to appear to have addressed Common Core opponents’ concerns while leaving intact the heart of the standards and every ounce of federal overreach.
Repeal and replace legislation is the best and only certain way to take a stand against Common Core and the federal government for having put states in this position in the first place. Essentially, the federal government bribed states into adopting Common Core standards through the prospect of winning Race to the Top grant money. Many states adopted the standards without even seeing a final draft.
Lawmakers’ support for this legislation and the appointment of a commission to review Common Core is understandable, as it gets them off the hook, if only temporarily. Opponents of the standards want to continue with the momentum they’ve built, but unless the commission recommends repealing and replacing Common Core, this fight will inevitably be lost.