Senate votes to block new education standards

? The Kansas Senate passed a bill today that would block local schools and the State Department of Education from implementing the Common Core standards in reading and math, as well as the proposed Next Generation Science Standards.

The bill now goes to the House, where conservatives had insisted that the Senate pass such a bill before they would consider adopting a budget bill.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, said the Common Core standards represent, “a dramatic centralization of authority” over public education.

But opponents of the bill said the standards are supported by the vast majority of educators, as well as business leaders around the country.

Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat, tries to amend a bill that would block implementation of the Common Core standards in Kansas. The bill was carried by Senate Education Committee chairman Steve Abrams, right, an Arkansas City Republican.

“This is another example of why Kansas has become the laughing stock of the nation,” said Senate Democratic leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka.

At one point, Sen. Tom Hawk, a Manhattan Democrat, asked the chief sponsor of the bill, Sen. Steve Abrams, to identify any specific standards in the Common Core that he objected to.

“There are other things besides just the standards themselves,” Abrams said. “What I’m trying to be responsive to, as I suspect everyone in this room wants to be responsive to constituents.”

The bill passed, 24-12, with only Republican support. Four Republicans joined all eight Democrats in voting no.

After the Senate action, however, there was disagreement about whether the bill actually would prevent schools from implementing the Common Core standards, with some saying the real purpose was to block the State Board of Education from voting next month to adopt the new science standards.

The bill states: “No school district, nor the department of education nor the state board of education shall expend any moneys to institute the common core standards, the next generation science standards or any other uniform educational standards for grades kindergarten through 12, or any portion of such standards, including any assessments affiliated with such standards, that were not adopted by the state board of education prior to the first day of the 2013 legislative session.”

It also sets up a legislative oversight committee to review the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, and make recommendations to the 2014 legislature about whether they conform to the “educational values” of the state and whether they should be continued.

Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat, succeeded in getting an amendment added to clarify that “uniform educational standards” means standards adopted in two or more states. Otherwise, she said, it also would have prevented the state from implementing the new social studies standards that were adopted in April.

Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker told a Senate committee on Friday that she believed that the language would allow the state to move ahead with Common Core, since those standards were adopted in October 2010. Committee members reportedly agreed to that statement.

That would mean the only thing the bill really prevents from happening is the adoption of the proposed Next Generation Science Standards, which the state board had been expected to vote on this month.

But at least three state board of education members who were on hand during the Senate debate said that if the bill becomes law, it could set up a constitutional lawsuit to decide whether the Legislature even has authority to determine what standards the state board may adopt.

“Depending on how the House vote comes out, I look for several board members to bring that up and it will be discussed,” said Sally Cauble, a Republican from Liberal and vice chairwoman of the State Board of Education. “There comes a point when we need to really be able to know what our responsibilities are.”

Board members Janet Waugh, a Kansas City Democrat, and Deena Horst, a Salina Republican, said they had personally discussed the possibility of a lawsuit.

“Our next meeting should be very interesting,” Waugh said. The board’s next meeting is Tuesday, June 11.

Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution says the state board is given authority over “general supervision of public schools, educational institutions and all the educational interests of the state.”