Crapo, Risch split on Common Core

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Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho

Opposition to Common Core academic standards is rising within Republican Party circles, but Idaho’s two Republican U.S. senators are split on the issue.

And their reasoning is noteworthy as well.

Sen. Mike Crapo says the Common Core question has been vetted at the state level, and he sees no need for federal officials to interfere.

Sen. Jim Risch says Idaho should establish its own standards, describing Common Core as a federal mandate.

For federal lawmakers, Common Core is more than just an academic question. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, recently urged Senate appropriators to cut off federal spending on Common Core implementation.

Supporters say Common Core standards will encourage critical, analytical thinking and better prepare graduates for college and careers. The standards are in the works in Idaho, 44 other states and the District of Columbia. Idaho Core Standards in math and English language arts will launch this fall, with assessments to follow in 2014-15.

Jim Risch

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho

Idaho’s involvement in Common Core dates back to November 2007, when Republican state schools superintendent Tom Luna first met with fellow state schools officials to discuss a state-led standards effort. The State Board of Education, a panel of appointees answering to Republican Gov. Butch Otter, approved the standards in November 2010. Two months later, the overwhelmingly Republican House and Senate education committees OK’d rules establishing the Common Core standards.

That process was enough to satisfy Crapo, a former state senator, who declined to sign the Grassley letter.

“(Crapo) views it as a state issue already decided since the state accepted the standards and there is no need to interfere with the state’s wishes,” spokesman Lindsay Nothern said in a statement.

Risch didn’t sign the letter either; Grassley wanted colleagues to sign on by April 25 — and according to one conservative blog, eight Republicans did. But Risch, a former state senator who served a seven-month stint as governor in 2006, supported Grassley’s intent.

“Risch has always believed that the standards and methodologies for educating Idaho students is best determined by Idahoans,” spokesman Brad Hoaglun said in a statement. “For that reason, he does not support federally mandated standards.”

Luna says the increased opposition to Common Core is based on several myths — including the notion that states were required to adopt the standards. The federal funding question is, to date, a moot issue; Idaho has received no federal funding for Common Core implementation.

The Republican National Committee has also come out against Common Core, in a resolution labeling the standards “a nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.” Risch supports this resolution, Hoaglun said.

Common Core was a recurring theme during a statewide round of public forums this month, held by  Otter’s education reform task force. Speakers generally opposed the standards, but some educators spoke in favor of them.

Rep. Mike Simpson will “closely scrutinize” any attempt by the federal government to influence state academic standards, spokeswoman Nikki Watts said. Simpson considers Common Core to be “primarily a state-driven effort” that does not lay out a national curriculum, Watts said.

Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador’s office did not respond to requests for comment on Grassley’s letter or the RNC resolution.