Indiana Common Core Bill Bottlenecked in House

Published March 11, 2013

Indiana’s bid to pause national education standards is bottlenecked in the House Education Committee, where Chairman Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) says nothing has changed his mind about refusing to hear the bill.

“I’m not excited about hearing [the bill,] but if I did it wouldn’t look like it does now,” Behning said.

By a bipartisan 38-11 vote, the Indiana Senate passed Senate Bill 193 to hold public hearings in every congressional district on Common Core, national requirements for what K-12 students must know in math and English, and to study how much new tests, textbooks, and teacher training because of it would cost taxpayers.

“We’ve never ever gone to that level of public input,” Behning said of the bill. “Frankly, most of the time the public would not have a very easy time even understanding what standards are, let alone trying to help form them.”

Indiana is home to a grassroots resistance against Common Core also saturating the dozen other states considering similar measures. Their coalition, in Indiana and nationwide, ranges from anti-testing teachers and unions to parents and Tea Partiers concerned about local control and federal power grabs.

Education Interests
Common Core has a unique supporter in the Indiana House: Rep. Todd Huston (R-Fishers) works for the man who wrote Common Core, one of its foremost promoters. That’s David Coleman, now president of the College Board, which oversees SAT college entrance exams and Advanced Placement curriculum and tests. Huston is a senior vice president for College Board, one of its 16 senior leaders.

Neither Huston nor House Republican leadership consider his job a conflict of interest, said Tory Flynn, spokeswoman for the House Republicans. She emphasized Indiana has a part-time legislature, which means “we really wouldn’t have many votes” on big bills like the budget if everyone recused themselves from bills touching their private employment.

“We really define conflict as putting money in the pocket of the legislator who is voting on a bill,” she said, citing the House’s code of ethics.

Although it’s important not to keep the legislature from doing its job, Indiana needs “distinct rules in place that direct legislators to the appropriate behavior,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause-Indiana.  “But I don’t expect the individual to decide how to deal with [conflicts of interest] and that’s basically how it works in Indiana.”

Twenty-five of Indiana’s House reps have similar current or former jobs in education, including a former Education Roundtable member, school administrators and teachers, and university fundraisers.

Fact-Checking Advocacy Groups
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce supports the Core and has forcefully argued for its private and lawmaker friends to retain the standards. In emails to supporters, the chamber says Common Core “has come under assault from a contingent of out-of-state groups, tea party activists and far-right legislators.”

A progressive, out-of state activist group just bought approximately $90,000 in TV and radio ads featuring Indiana teachers and parents asserting the standards are “high-quality,” although an Thomas B. Fordham Institute study comparing Indiana’s standards to Common Core found Indiana’s were better. Every content expert on the Core’s review committee refused to approve it because it couldn’t compare to high-ranking countries and its creators offered slim research to back its mandates.

“Common Core Standards must be reevaluated,” said state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, in a statement. “Indiana had exceptional standards before Common Core.”

Public Transparency
The grassroots Common Core resistance is led by two Indianapolis moms who found it pushing “fuzzy math” on their kids. Several hundred parents visited the Indianapolis capitol to advocate the bill during its Senate hearing. Still, Behning says elected representatives are not telling him “this is a significant issue they’d like to have vetted publicly. That doesn’t mean things can’t change.”

“The standards were developed by a consortium of state leaders, including Daniels and Bennett,” the chamber email said. Big businesses, progressive foundations, and the federal government provide the vast majority of funds for that consortium, whose representatives have repeatedly refused to reveal which state leaders made what decisions.

“Nothing good in terms of government happens in secret,” Vaughn said. “You gotta turn on the light or it’s going to be bad.”

Image by Jimmy Emerson.