Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter now opposes the Common Core standards that he embraced four months ago.
Louisiana should instead create its own educational standards and its own tests, Vitter wrote Monday in an email to his supporters.
“After listening to literally thousands of parents, teachers and others since then, I don’t believe that we can achieve that Louisiana control, buy-in and success I’m committed to if we stay in Common Core,” said Vitter, who is running for governor in 2015.
Vitter’s switch in position will hurt him among business leaders, who generally support higher academic standards, but help him among many conservatives, who oppose Common Core as a national intrusion into a traditionally local obligation.
One of those who had expressed doubt about Vitter’s candidacy because of his initial stance on Common Core is Bob Reid, the head of the Tea Party of Louisiana, the state’s largest such group.
“It does look like he’s coming around,” Reid said. “What we want to hear is why he is against Common Core” and what the Republican senator from Metairie is going to do about it.
Former Congressman Jeff Landry, who was elected with tea party support, said in a prepared statement, “Sen. Vitter and I have spent time over the last several months discussing this issue. It is critical that we maintain our independence when it comes to curriculum decisions in Louisiana, while ensuring that our children receive the best education possible.”
The New Iberia Republican is running for state attorney general in 2015.
In August, Vitter said he supported the “strong standards like the Common Core standards Louisiana has adopted.” But he added that efforts needed to be made to ensure local control, with input from teachers and parents, over curriculum and course materials. But those goals had not been met.
Vitter argued that national groups have come to control the Common Core program and some of its supporters are trying weaken state accountability measures. “Many Louisianians legitimately fear that it will become a federal government takeover of education under President Obama and his far-left allies,” Vitter said in his email.
State Rep. Brett Geymann, a Lake Charles Republican who has been one of the legislative leaders in the fight to roll back Common Core standards in Louisiana, said Vitter’s position change helps build momentum for legislative efforts to remove Common Core in the 2015 session that begins April 10.
Legislative opponents of Common Core already are drafting bills for the upcoming session.
During the 2014 session, which ended in June, legislators pushed back efforts to cancel the standards.
Geymann said Vitter, like Jindal before him, discovered that the pushback to the standards was stronger than most candidates and elected officials had thought.
“As he (Vitter) was campaigning for governor, I think he was seeing and hearing people and responding,” Geymann said. “It’s more than small pockets of opposition.”
Barry Erwin, a Common Core backer, said Vitter’s switching positions could aid some legislative efforts to overturn the standards.
“Some in the legislature will think this will give them some momentum they didn’t have before,” Erwin said, adding that he thinks the opponents will be making a “full-frontal assault” to rid Louisiana of Common Core when the Legislature convenes.
“That said, I don’t think the momentum has changed or that the sentiment in the Legislature has shifted,” Erwin said.
Regardless of Vitter’s stance, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry won’t be wavering, said Brigitte T. Nieland, LABI’s vice president of program and workforce development. LABI is the state’s largest group of large- and small-business owners and executives — many of whom actively donate to political campaigns.
“I respect Sen. Vitter’s right to his position. But we have a fundamental disagreement with him on this issue,” Nieland said. “We still believe strong math skills and strong language skills are important for improving the quality of the workforce and improving the quality of life.”
Common Core is a set of math and language arts standards that students in grades K-12 are expected to know. The new expectations are supposed to make courses more rigorous and better prepare students for college and careers.
Specific topics are detailed grade by grade, such as counting in kindergarten, fractions in third grade and equations in eighth grade.
The standards were crafted largely by a wing of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which includes superintendents nationwide.
“The Common Core is going to be the best tool for helping our students find success and to compete nationally,” said Amy Deslattes, an English teacher for 16 years and now an instructional coach at Lafayette High School. “We have a good thing and we are moving forward, and we are seeing some great results in our classrooms.”
Moves to stop Common Core are disheartening to teachers who are now getting comfortable with it and seeing students making progress in the classroom.
Vitter’s plan requires Louisiana to start from scratch, said Britton Kilpatrick, a math teacher in Lincoln Parish. “I don’t think we can come up with equal or more rigorous standards (that Vitter wants). I think a national approach is necessary,” he said.
Vitter’s change in positions aligns him with Gov. Bobby Jindal, also a Republican, who made a similar about-face earlier this year.
Jindal has since aligned himself with a smattering of state lawmakers, including 17 who filed a lawsuit aimed at derailing Common Core.
“I applaud Senator Vitter for his decision to oppose Common Core,” Jindal said in a prepared statement released by his press office.
“Parents don’t want a national curriculum designed by the federal government. Decisions about curriculum are best left to local control. That’s why we are going to keep improving education based on local control, and it is why we will absolutely continue to fight to get Common Core out of Louisiana.”