Meridian Star

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March 12, 2014

Miss. Common Core opponents lose spending fight

JACKSON — Mississippi will keep spending money to implement the Common Core state standards for public schools if senators have their way.

The Senate rejected an attempt to bar the state from spending money on the academic standards in House Bill 1476 by a 39-11 vote Wednesday.

The charge against the standards was led by Republican Sens. Angela Hill of Picayune and Michael Watson of Pascagoula.

They were supported by Sen. Chris McDaniel, an Ellisville Republican who's challenging U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in the June 3 GOP primary.

"We stand here today to debate the issue that should have been debated two years ago," McDaniel said. "It's about control. It's always been about control."

Pro-Cochran forces have attacked McDaniel for voting in 2012 and 2013 to fund the same line in the state budget. Common Core opponents, though, said they didn't become familiar with the issue until the close of last year's Legislature.

Common Core started as an effort to reach agreement across states about what students should learn. At the end of the effort, 45 states including Mississippi signed on, and even some opponents agree the guidelines are stronger than what Mississippi had before.

Opponents say the standards and accompanying testing represent a federal takeover of education. They also say Common Core is academically flawed and the use of testing data could violate student privacy.

Proponents say that when fully implemented, students will learn to think more analytically and learn less by memorization.

"Let's be patient and give these standards a chance to work," said Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, who handled the spending bill.

Sen. Tony Smith, R-Picayune, said precedents in other states show the teaching outcomes will be bad

"I know it's not called a curriculum, but it is," he said. "The standards drive the curriculum."

Wednesday's debate of more than two hours brought out into the open an issue that's been simmering in the state Senate throughout the 2014 Legislature. Opponents introduced a number of bills meant to stop implementation, but they were stifled in committee. That left them to attack a roughly $700,000 appropriation to help improve the Common Core skills of public school teachers.

"This is the only opportunity we have to raise our concerns and say we have a problem," said Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez.

Opponents said that Common Core is such a big change that the Legislature should have had a chance to debate it and said the Mississippi Board of Education only adopted it in a fruitless chase for a federal grant.

"So they chose to leave this elected body out of fundamentally changing education in this state," Hill said.

The debate at times became heated, with Sojourner criticizing Burton for likening opposition to people who said they sighted UFOs in the 1970s

"This is not a place to make a joke about the future of the education of the children of our state," Sojourner said, standing mere feet from Burton as he bristled.

"There's nobody more serious about education in our state than me," Burton replied. "A little levity goes a long way, and I don't think that the children of Mississippi are going to be hurt because I made a humorous remark.


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