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The state school board acted within its legal authority in adopting the Common Core, and Utah maintains control of what and how its children are taught.
That was the legal opinion of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who presented findings Tuesday of his office's review of the state's participation in the Common Core standards.
Reyes' review came at the request of Gov. Gary Herbert, who in July said he hoped to settle "once and for all" whether Utah had ceded educational authority by implementing educational benchmarks in common with other states.
"This is a first step, it's not the only step," Herbert said Tuesday. "We'll continue to work together over the next couple of months to help resolve what has become a contentious issue."
Most states have adopted the Common Core, which outlines minimum skills in math and English a student is expected to master in each grade. But the standards have been dogged by controversy, with many accusing the federal government of coercing states into participation with an eye toward a nationalized curriculum.
Reyes said Utah did not acquiesce to outside interests in adopting the standards and added that the state school board retains its authority to revise or abandon the Common Core without the threat of federal sanctions.
The only limits imposed on the board in changing statewide standards, Reyes said, are those established by Utah lawmakers.
"There is no federal constraint," he said, "on Utah's ability to modify its core standards."
Herbert said he was relieved to receive confirmation that Utah maintained control of its curriculum, but he stopped short of endorsing the Common Core standards themselves.
In addition to the review by the attorney general's office, Herbert commissioned a standards review panel consisting of higher-education representatives to examine the Common Core's content. That panel met for the first time Monday and is expected to report to the governor in December.
Herbert described the uproar surrounding the Common Core as a "forest fire." He said the contention over standards has become divisive and unhealthy, resulting in wasted time and resources.
"If people are looking for a villain," he said, "they will continue to look whether they find one or not."
Dalane England, a member of the Utah Eagle Forum and the group Utahns Against Common Core, said she has studied the standards and disagrees with the assessment by the attorney general's office.
"They're not looking at the evidence I'm looking at," she said. "I have a lot of evidence, and it doesn't bring us the same conclusion."
England said there's no question that Utah is losing local control over education and she was skeptical that Reyes' review would diminish the arguments surrounding Common Core.
"It won't end the debate," she said. "Because real people have real kids in real schools and the real problems are there. And they're not going to go away because an [attorney general] did a report."
Sydnee Dickson, Utah's interim deputy superintendent, said Reyes' report aligns with what educational officials anticipated from a legal review of the Common Core.
"This adds to the overall evidence," she said, "that, indeed, we are in control of education here in the state."
Dickson said it's likely that opponents will continue to find fault with the Common Core, but hoped the report eases the "fears of a lot of folks" who worry about federal intrusion into Utah schools.