Hoping to ease some Utahns' fears about Common Core academic standards, the Governor's Office asked the state school board to change an application it submitted last year for a waiver to federal No Child Left Behind requirements.
The state school board, however, voted against that request Thursday.
The waiver asked states to identify their choice of academic standards, which outline concepts and skills students should learn in each grade. States either had to check "Option A," affirming that they had adopted standards "common to a significant number of states," or "Option B," indicating their standards had been approved by the state's higher education institutions.
Utah education leaders checked the first option, as Utah had joined most other states in adopting the Common Core. Critics have decried that decision, saying it tied Utah to the standards.
Christine Kearl, the governor's education advisor, told board members Thursday that she believes checking Option B would alleviate those concerns without actually having to drop the standards. She said the Governor's Office hears daily complaints about the Common Core.
"It's become very political as I'm sure you're all aware," Kearl said. "We're under attack. We try to get back to people and let them know we support the Common Core and support the decision of the state school board, but this has just become relentless."
But Assistant Attorney General Kristina Kindl warned board members the change would give the state's higher education system approval power over K-12 standards.
Some board members also bristled at the idea of changing the application, saying it wouldn't mean much. Former State Superintendent Larry Shumway had already sent the feds a letter asserting that Utah retains control over its standards.
"It just seems like we are caving to political pressure based on things that are not based in actual fact," said board member Dave Thomas.
Some also wondered whether switching would allay the concerns of foes, who began arguing that the Core was federally tied before Utah applied for the waiver. State education leaders have long responded that the standards were developed in a states-led initiative and leave curriculum up to teachers and districts.
Oak Norton, a Highland parent who helped develop a website for the group Utahns Against Common Core, said he was disappointed by the board's decision against changing the waiver.
"Then we could have looked at adopting our own standards that were higher than the Common Core," Norton said.
The board did vote to send a resolution to the governor, lawmakers and the state's political parties asking them to work with the state school board to support the Common Core for the good of Utah's students.
The resolution follows a letter sent by members of Congress, including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, last week to Senate budget leaders asking them to eliminate "further interference by the U.S. Department of Education with respect to state decisions on academic content standards."