A bill that backers touted as a way to help forge a compromise on Common Core after nearly two years of bitter debate won approval Wednesday in the Louisiana House Education Committee.
The measure, House Bill 373, cleared the committee without objection and next faces action in the full House.
The agreement, which was the product of days of closed-door negotiations, sparked a rare alliance between Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, one of the Legislature’s top critics of Common Core, and Superintendent of Education John White, Louisiana’s leading champion of the new academic standards in reading, writing and math.
“I can’t imagine this would ever happen,” Geymann, sponsor of the legislation, told the panel in a jam-packed committee room.
Whether the legislation, if approved, paves the way for sweeping changes in Common Core or merely tweaks it is in dispute.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office praised progress in efforts to reach agreement but, significantly, declined to endorse what backers insisted was a grand compromise.
Under current plans, four committees of roughly 100 educators and others are reviewing Common Core in classrooms now for possible changes.
Recommendations are supposed to go to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, without formal legislative input.
Geymann’s bill would change the review of Common Core in three ways.
- Require BESE to hold public hearings this year in all six congressional districts to allow citizens a voice in the benchmarks that Geymann and other critics say they were unfairly denied.
- Allow the state House and Senate education committees to review changes recommended by BESE by March 4, 2016, and take all-or-nothing votes on the modifications.
- Permit future governors veto authority on the changes, also all or nothing.
White reminded reporters that, if lawmakers or the governor object to Common Core standards, the current ones remain in effect while new efforts are launched by BESE to reach agreement.
Geymann and others contend the plan is part of a three-bill package that answers many of the demands of Common Core opponents.
“It gives us an opportunity for the public to be engaged,” the lawmaker said in an interview outside the committee room, moments before the debate began.
“There is committee oversight,” Geymann said. “There is governor veto potentially of the standards. ... It is all the things we have been asking for.
“There are three hurdles that it has to go through. There is about as much transparency as you could ask for.”
Last year, Common Core bills sparked hearings that went well into the night and triggered fierce testimony.
But this time, House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, a Common Core backer, joined Geymann at the witness table in a show of support.
Geymann’s measure won approval in just over two hours.
Others argued that, while the bill would change the way academic standards are vetted, the process begins with Common Core in place and any failure to agree on changes means the existing benchmarks remain.
“I think more than anything else it preserves what we do have right now,” said Barry Erwin, president of the pro-Common Core group Council for a Better Louisiana.
“If they tweak it, or do whatever, all we are doing is building on Common Core standards,” Erwin said.
Geymann and other critics of the overhaul earlier pushed to scrap both the academic guidelines and assessments, and have local educators write new ones.
While the veto would apply to future governors, Jindal is concerned that a future chief executive could leave Common Core intact merely by vetoing changes recommended during the review process.
“Secondly, there is concern about the commission set up by BESE to come up with new Louisiana standards because some believe it is filled with Common Core supporters,” Kyle Plotkin, Jindal’s chief of staff, said in a prepared statement.
Jindal, a former Common Core backer turned opponent, leaves office in January, well ahead of the time when he could review any suggested changes.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, a longtime backer of Common Core, said Geymann’s bill would help end long-running arguments over the future of the guidelines.
“We need to get the chaos out of the education system,” Appel told the committee.
White, who has long argued for tweaks rather than wholesale changes in Common Core, declined to predict whether the agreement would pave the way for major or minor adjustments.
“We should trust our educators to make that professional determination,” he said.
Two other bills that are part of the agreement are set for committee hearings.
One would change Common Core tests — House Bill 542.
The other says legislative committees and the governor could only accept or reject recommended changes in education benchmarks — Senate Bill 43.
It is set to be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.