Utah Governor Renounces Support of Common Core, Easily Wins Re-Election

Published January 5, 2017

Utah incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert (R) will begin his third term after switching positions on Common Core during a contentious campaign for the Republican nomination.

Formerly a proponent of the Common Core State Standards, a national program dictating what students should know at the end of each grade level, Herbert expressed opposition to the standards in May 2016 after primary challenger and outspoken Common Core opponent Jonathan Johnson said, “Utah’s students will benefit greatly from more localization and personalization.”

Herbert wrote a letter to members of the Utah State Board of Education before the primary elections in May saying, in part, “I am asking the State Board of Education to consider implementing uniquely Utah standards, moving beyond the Common Core to a system that is tailored specifically to the needs of our state.”

Herbert defeated his Democratic opponent, Mike Weinholtz, 67–29 percent in the November 2016 election.

‘Realized Something Wasn’t Right’

Alpine District School Board member Wendy Hart says Herbert won because he listened to his constituents.

“When he spoke with enough average people who were concerned about their individual children, he realized that something wasn’t right,” Hart said. “My hope is that he will realize that when moms are upset, it’s not that they are motivated by politics, but by a desire to help their children.”

Alisa Ellis, a member of the Utah State School Board (USSB), says Common Core was a primary issue in the election.

“As Common Core has been put in place, parents are really waking up to the reality of what’s going on in schools, and it became very obvious during the primary season that the battle was still continuing to rage against Common Core in the public,” Ellis said.

Parents ‘Ready to Take the Lead’

Of eight seats open on the USSB during the 2016 general elections, six anti-Common Core candidates ran and four won, three of whom are homeschool moms.

Ellis says the public voted to restore parental control.

“All of us ran on a parental-rights platform,” said Ellis. “Parents want to take back their parental right to direct the education of their children. Common Core is just one part of the equation. It’s a symptom of the larger problem of parents being left out of discussions that affect their kids.

“We’ve let the state take our responsibility away and made the state’s role primary and the parent’s right secondary,” Ellis said. “This election shows that parents are ready to take the lead in their child’s education. It’s time we stopped talking past each other and start having conversations with each other, because when we sit down to talk, we often find we have much more in common than we think we do.”

Told Common Core Is ‘a Non-Issue’

Hart says she’s not surprised parents made their concerns known when voting for USSB members, because Common Core is hurting their children.  

“In a conversation with a Common Core supporter, I was told that Common Core is really a non-issue, that it’s been long enough [and] we need to give up the fight and just get along,” Hart said. “My response was that it’s only a non-issue if you don’t have a child who is struggling. The advantage the pro-Common Core people have is that they have successfully branded anti-Common Core parents as protesting for no good reason or for their own personal ‘political’ agendas. The reality is that parents who don’t like Common Core don’t like it because their children are not thriving with it, and that’s not going away.”

Although a flip of six out of 15 USSB members doesn’t provide anti-Common Core parents with a majority, Hart says she considers it to be a “sizeable” representation of Utah’s anti-Common Core sentiments.

“As the one anti-Common Core candidate who did not prevail but knocked out the current USSB chair in the primaries, Gary Thompson, says, ‘Parents are, and must always be, the resident experts of their own children,'” Hart said.

Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.