The two contenders for Chas Roemer’s Baton Rouge-area seat on Louisiana’s top school board are arguing about who is the bonafide critic of Common Core.
Veteran educator Kathy Edmonston, a longtime critic of the standards, said runoff opponent Jason Engen is suddenly opposing Common Core despite heavy financial support from longtime backers of the overhaul.
“I am looking at the funding of his campaign, you know, all the dollars that have come in,” Edmonston said Tuesday.
“It seems really strange to me, all of a sudden, we (Engen) are against Common Core,” she said.
Engen said he has had no change of heart.
“It is frustrating,” he said.
“They are trying to put a label on me; they are trying to label me as the pro-Common Core candidate primarily because of some folks that donated to my campaign,” said Engen, a Baton Rouge businessman.
Edmonston and Engen square off in the Nov. 21 runoff, one of the two on the ballot for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Six others were elected in the Oct. 24 primary, and all six are generally considered backers of the revamped benchmarks in reading, writing and math.
During the five-person primary campaign, Edmonston, who led the field with 47 percent of the vote, stood out as one of the most vociferous critics of Common Core.
Edmonston, a veteran Ascension Parish educator, has said implementation of the standards in public schools was a disaster.
“Standards are fine, but when I see kids being crushed ... we need to kind of look at that,” she said Tuesday.
Engen last month criticized delays in releasing Common Core test results but was generally seen as more sympathetic to the overhaul, like much of the business community.
In addition, he has collected $20,000 in campaign contributions from political action committees tied to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which has long backed Common Core.
Engen also got a $1,000 contribution from Roemer, who is president of BESE and one of the state’s most high-profile backers of the standards.
Engen said he backs the ongoing review of Common Core and is confident the final product will include a much-needed Louisiana imprint.
Whether any recommended changes will be sweeping or something else is unclear.
“The Common Core issue is done,” Engen said. “It is settled. We implemented it. We had problems with it. The last legislative session, it was gutted.”
He added, “Then we had a compromise. Let’s create Louisiana standards that are rigorous. That is what I believe in. I don’t believe the federal government should come in and say how we should be educating our students.”
Engen finished with 19 percent of the vote in the primary.
Brigitte Nieland, who follows education issues for LABI, said she is not alarmed by Engen’s comments. “He is definitely the better of the two,” Nieland said.
Roemer said he never grilled Engen about his views on the standards.
“I think he supports the review that is going on,” Roemer said.
“The review process is making sure Louisiana educators get a chance to look at it and if we can improve on what we ought to do,” he said. “It kind of goes along with what I have said.”
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