This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Props to Gov. Gary Herbert for asking someone who is already on the payroll in this case, Attorney General Sean Reyes to review any legal entanglements that might bind the state to the Common Core education standards and to conclude that, basically, there aren't any.
It would have been a bit galling for a state that is already far too parsimonious with its education funding to drop tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring in a high-powered consultant to tell us what Reyes did.
(We could contrast that with the $600,000 the state spent on outside counsel in its unwise and ultimately unsuccessful fight against same-sex marriage. But, in the name of being good winners, let that be water under the bridge.)
Reyes' report, issued Tuesday, concluded that while the Common Core, adopted as a Utah standard by the State Board of Education, has the full-throated support of the U.S. Department of Education and many of the nation's self-styled education experts, it is not a federal law, a federal mandate or, so far as anyone can tell now, a prerequisite needed to receive federal education funds in the future.
So, if the rival wing of the country's self-described education experts later succeeds in convincing the state board, or the Legislature, that the standards set by the Common Core are too stringent, too loose, too political, not political enough or just a plain bad idea, Utah can take back its approval without being in violation of any contract or federal statute.
All Utah would have to do to someday secede from the Common Core, yet retain its claim on federal funds for schools in low-income neighborhoods, would be to come up with its own set of standards. It would have to write its own check list of the sorts of things students should know at various points along their educational career, so that they can be ready for college, technical school or the workforce, at levels that compare favorably with national and world standards.
Which is something Utah, or any state, should be doing anyway, with or without federal pressure.
Herbert was surely correct when he said Tuesday that neither Reyes' report, nor any other official reassurance, will stop the controversy. The governor himself is still seeking counsel from the state's gurus of higher education.
"If people are looking for a villain," the governor said, "they will continue to look whether they find one or not."
The Ebola-level scare mongering put out by Common Core opponents is not justified. Like any set of standards written by fallible human beings, there are certain to be parts of the Common Core that will fail. That will be too easy for some students and schools and too difficult for others.
All Utahns should be interested in setting high, yet achievable, standards for their schools. The Common Core is one tool we can use to accomplish that. Until we come up with a better one.