While state lawmakers have struck an agreement on Common Core, the compromise has sparked a major dispute on whether the accord would pave the way for sweeping changes in the standards.
State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, chief sponsor of the key bill, said adding three new steps to Louisiana’s review of classroom benchmarks would lead to a major revamp of the academic benchmarks.
“I think it positions us to have really good standards we can all live with rather than a rebrand of Common Core,” Geymann said.
Stephen Waguespack, president of the leading pro-Common Core group Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, disagreed. “I don’t expect big changes,” Waguespack said.
The differing views point up the major question in the 21-month-old debate: Just what would the impact be if all three bills that make up the agreement win final approval?
And how can diehard backers of Common Core, like state Superintendent of Education John White, and vociferous opponents, like Geymann, both look at the legislation and say it is good for their side?
Much of the dispute focuses on how Geymann’s bill would change plans to review classroom guidelines in reading, writing and math.
Common Core is already a part of public schools.
Nearly 320,000 students in grades three to eight recently finished tests on the new academic benchmarks.
Under current plans, 96 educators and others are supposed to study the standards and recommend changes.
Those slots are to be filled by the pro-Common Core state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on June 17.
Three subcommittees are to handle the details of the review.
A 26-member committee would then recommend modifications to BESE, and the state board is to finish its work by December 2016.
Geymann said his proposal — House Bill 373 — would change the Common Core landscape just ahead of a new BESE, governor and Legislature taking office in January.
He said it would do so in large part by requiring that the panel hold public hearings on the revisions after July 1 in each of Louisiana’s six congressional districts.
“So you have the opportunity for the public to be engaged in that process, and the areas of concern are going to rise to the top,” he said.
The measure requires BESE to finalize its recommendations by March 4, 2016, nine months earlier than the current timetable.
However, rather than the process ending there, any proposed changes would face the scrutiny of the House and Senate Education committees — the second proposed new step in the review.
Geymann said that would add a safeguard against concerns the 96-member educator committees and BESE want to keep the standards mostly unchanged.
“That is our safeguard, that is why I think this is going to work,” he said.
Future governors would also have the ability to veto suggested changes in what and how students are taught — the third proposed addition to the review of Common Core.
A governor, like the two legislative committees, could only say yes or no to the entire package, not pick and choose.
Any rejection by the legislative panels or the governor would then return the issue to BESE for more work while Common Core remains intact.
Common Core backers contend BESE, legislative committees and the next governor will give great weight to what practitioners in the field recommend — the 96 educators reviewing the standards.
Jim Garvey, an attorney in Metairie and a pro-Common Core member of BESE, said teachers will make up 90 percent of the review panels.
“The teachers that I have talked to, who are on the front line, are fairly satisfied with the standards,” Garvey said in an email response to questions.
“They have a very few changes to correct the few problems that they see but not much more than that,” he said.
Waguespack, former chief of staff for Gov. Bobby Jindal, said that while the bills are early in the legislative process, Common Core backers have reason to be cautiously optimistic.
“My sense is that this lays out a path to get public input, to make sure there is a lot of participation,” he said.
“But at the end of the day, I think it keeps us on a course so that we have competitive standards,” Waguespack said.
The bill by Geymann and the two other measures, including revised Common Core tests, are early in the legislative process and subject to major changes in the final three weeks plus of the session.
Another wild card is Jindal, who wants the current standards scrapped and who has declined to take a stance on the bills.
White, who has said he backs revisions to Common Core, endorsed Geymann’s bill.
However, his views on the impact of the legislation are radically different from those of Geymann and other critics of the standards.
“We are not going to make teachers go back and do this all over again, five years worth of hard work thrown out the window,” White told reporters.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/ politicsblog.