Mike Lee asks for stop to federal 'interference' in school standards
Education • Utah senator joins others in signing letter opposing the Common Core.
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Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has jumped into the ongoing fray over Common Core State Standards, signing a letter asking Senate budget leaders to "restore state decision-making and accountability."

Lee, along with eight other Republican senators, sent the letter to the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds education on Friday. The letter asks that any future education appropriations bill includes language prohibiting the U.S. Secretary of Education from using the money to implement or require the standards in any way, in hopes of eliminating "further interference by the U.S. Department of Education with respect to state decisions on academic content standards."

"The decision about what students should be taught and when it should be taught has enormous consequences for our children," the letter says. "Therefore, parents ought to have a straight line of accountability to those who are making such decisions. State legislatures, which are directly accountable to the citizens of their states , are the appropriate place for those decisions to be made, free from any pressure from the U.S. Department of Education."

In an interview with the Tribune Tuesday, Lee declined to comment on Utah's adoption of the standards, saying his concern is with keeping the federal government out of state and local education decisions.

"If they choose to adopt them, I hope they do so because they're relevant standards and local leaders think they're good standards not because of any federal mandate," he said of states' adoption of the standards. He said, so far, he's noticed "disturbing trends" in the direction of the federal government becoming overly involved in pushing the standards.

Utah proponents of the standards, however, have long fought against arguments that they were federally developed or imposed. The Utah state school board adopted the standards in 2010 in hopes of better preparing students for college and careers. The standards — developed as part of a states-led initiative — outline the concepts and skills students should learn in each grade, while leaving curriculum decisions up to local teachers and districts.

Critics of the standards point out that the federal government, several years ago, encouraged states to adopt the standards as they applied for federal Race to the Top grant money. They also point to a federal requirement that states adopt college- and career-ready standards in order to receive a waiver to No Child Left Behind .

But Utah did not win that money, and to receive waivers, states could adopt either Common Core standards or different standards of their choosing.

Debra Roberts, state school board chairwoman, said Monday night she felt no federal pressure. Rather, she said, the standards were adopted to improve education.

"It became obvious we were not doing what we needed to do to have standards in place to help our children [reach a certain level]," Roberts said. "We needed to increase that rigor, and I believe that we have."

She said she doesn't believe Lee's argument affects Utah because ultimately, the state maintains total control over its standards, which Utah schools already are using.

lschencker@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lschencker