State Superintendent Larry Shumway sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Education on Monday reaffirming Utah's right to complete control over new Common Core academic standards.
It's a letter that comes after months of criticism from conservative groups and lawmakers over the Common Core standards, which Utah has adopted. The standards were developed as part of a states-led initiative and outline the concepts students should learn in each grade.
Many educators and state education leaders say they'll increase rigor in Utah schools. Opponents, however, worry that Utah is giving up local control over schools by implementing them.
"On behalf of the [state school board], I assert its right to complete control of Utah's learning standards in all areas of our public education curriculum," Shumway wrote in a letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
He also asserted Utah's right to withdraw at any time from a consortium of states that has banded together to develop new assessments based on the Common Core. And he said the state may make changes to, add or subtract from the Core.
"I believe the claims in this letter are consistent with long-standing principles of American law and constitutional traditions of state sovereignty, particularly in matters of control over public education," he wrote.
Utah has always been in control over whether to use the Common Core and whether to withdraw from the assessment consortium, but Shumway said he felt it was important to restate it so as to leave no doubt.
He also asked in the letter that the feds keep those rights in mind when considering Utah's applications for a waiver to No Child Left Behind and other types of education programs. But he said Monday he doesn't expect the letter to put Utah's waiver in jeopardy.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, who has been wary of Utah's Common Core adoption, said Monday afternoon she hadn't yet read the letter but heard it was "pretty mild." She said she's glad the Senate also advanced two proposals Monday SCR13 and SB287 aimed at clarifying that Utah may drop out of the Common Core and that the state school board should continually monitor the standards' implementation.
The governor said last week he had asked lawmakers to put forth legislation ensuring Utah control over the Core "to reinforce that this is a state-driven approach." Lt. Gov. Greg Bell also wrote a blog several months ago defending the Core.
"I'm not sure that the resolution detracts from anything he did, so I'm glad we just put that in place especially if it just reinforces what he was attempting to do with the letter," Dayton said of SCR13.
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, which has been a leading critic of the Core, said she's pleased with the letter but still concerned that Utah continues to move forward with the it. She said she believes Utah can create better academic standards than those within the Core, and she worries that Utah could get locked into using the Core by the federal government.
"We are glad to have a letter that says we can get out if we want to, but what we really want to do is get out of the Common Core," Ruzicka said. "We don't want to be part of the Common Core, so I hope this is just a step in that direction."