Montanans Fight Common Core in Court

Published April 23, 2015

Montana parents, activists, and educators are questioning the constitutionality, federal government overreach, and testing associated with the Common Core K-12 math and English standards.

“Common Core came into this state without a vote of the citizens,” said Eric Olsen, Eagle Forum state president. “We already have too much government control.”

HB 377, which would repeal Common Core, passed in by a 54-46 vote in the House. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Debra Lamm, R-Livingston.

“I think the most important thing is that [the standards were accepted] without public input or legislative decision making or review of what are huge policy changes,” Lamm said. “The office of public instruction basically obligated us [to implement Common Core].”

“They were adopted before there was a fiscal note done by the legislature, which is unconstitutional,” said Kari Zeier, state co-director of Concerned Women for America.

Seen as Federal Overreach

“Parents were totally unaware, and many school boards were unaware until it was rolled out,” Lamm said. “It was a huge federal overreach in an area where the people and public [officials] responsible for education were left out of the process.”

Transparency of the student testing process is also a major concern for parents, Olsen said.

Zeier has three children in public schools. She says she will remove her children from the public school system after this school year.

“As a parent, I started waking up several years ago [to Common Core],” Zeier said. “We hadn’t heard about [the standards] until they were implemented at the state level. What a slap in the face it was to parents that this huge educational shift took place in our state and parents were not notified about it.”

Student Privacy Concerns

Parents are also concerned about the collection of student data and other student privacy issues related to Common Core testing. Originally, Lamm included language addressing privacy concerns in HB 733, but then decided to draw the issue out as a separate piece of legislation.

Legislators tabled the privacy bill and may offer some amendments, Lamm says.

“A lot of people are worried about data mining,” Olsen said.

Smarter Balanced tests, standardized tests aligned with Common Core, have been put on hold as tensions rise.

“We just experienced a halt to the rollout of testing this week due to ‘data problems,’ but we don’t know what those are and what it means,” Lamm said.

When Zeier approached her daughter’s school to opt her out of the Common Core-aligned testing, she found Montana local code, not state law, dictates standardized tests are now compulsory.

“My child is not a number; my child is not a dollar amount,” said Zeier.

Poor Prospects in Legislature

“We have 13 Republicans who are voting with Democrats and not giving us a majority,” said Olsen. “Our governor would veto even if [HB 377] did pass the Senate and House.

“If we could get more conservatives in the Senate and House and a governor who would work with us, we could do an entire retrofit of the education system here, get rid of federal funds, and draft a more modern education system that is more comparable with the rest of the world,” Olsen said.

Lamm says the implementation of the Smarter Balanced tests was difficult for school officials and educators.

“The Senate also heard from our rural education association, and they are very concerned with how the testing has disrupted their schedules,” Lamm said. “I hope the committee that heard those things will give them some thought.”

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.

Image by woodleywonderworks.