House committee gets earful from out-of-state Common Core opponent

(UPDATED, 12:26 p.m., with comment from Ybarra’s office.)

A Common Core opponent from Wisconsin spent 30 minutes yelling and screaming at the House Education Committee Monday morning before the chairwoman cut him off.

Freedom Project Academy academic director Duke Pesta was in Boise for the “Buck the Core” anti-Common Core rally at the Statehouse.

Duke Pesta
Common Core critic Duke Pesta speaks at a Statehouse rally Monday morning.

Pesta opened the committee meeting at 8:30 a.m., and raised his voice loudly and spoke rapidly throughout much of his presentation. He said states were bribed into adopting Common Core and “crony capitalist” companies were making billions off public school students as a result.

Pesta also claimed that student enrollment in calculus courses decreased significantly under Common Core, and said algebra classes were pushed back later in students’ academic careers, dumbing them down in the process.

However, Republican Rep. Ryan Kerby, the retired superintendent of the New Plymouth School District, said the opposite occurred in his community. Calculus enrollment is increasing and students are taking algebra courses earlier in their academic careers — often in eighth grade.

“There are quite a few different ways of looking at this thing,” Kerby said.

Pesta also railed against lower science standards — even though science is not part of the Idaho Core Standards. Idaho has not updated its science standards since 2001, well before the creation of Common Core.

Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, a 37-year math teacher, also took issue with Pesta’s committee testimony.

“I guess we will just have to agree to disagree,” Toone said.

At one point, Pesta complained to the committee that he had only received three pay raises during his 25-year academic career.

In addition to raising his voice, Pesta ignored basic legislative decorum by not speaking through Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree.

After 30 minutes, VanOrden cut Pesta off, announcing it was time to move on with the day’s agenda.

In response, Pesta said “thank you” and walked directly out of the committee room.

Pesta received a more enthusiastic greeting later Monday morning, when he spoke on the Statehouse steps.

About 100 people — many wearing blaze orange hats and sweatshirts bearing the slogan “Buck the Core” — attended the rally.

Speakers included Madison School District Superintendent Geoffrey Thomas, a longtime opponent of Common Core, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Russ Fulcher, who opposed the standards during his unsuccessful run for governor in 2014.

Even though states have adopted the standards on their own, Fulcher said Common Core cedes control over education policy to the feds. “It’s not the dollars, it’s how it’s spent, and who controls those dollars.”

Attendees Monday included Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett; Republican Reps. Ron Nate of Rexburg, Dorothy Moon of Stanley and Sage Dixon of Ponderay; and Chuck Zimmerly, an aide to state superintendent Sherri Ybarra.

Zimmerly attended to represent the State Department of Education and answer any questions about the Idaho Challenge, an in-house review of the Idaho Core Standards, Ybarra spokesman Jeff Church said Monday.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.