By RYAN QUINN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — House Bill 2711 says the West Virginia Board of Education is “prohibited from implementing the Common Core academic standards.”
Yet few education leaders that the Gazette-Mail interviewed seem concerned that the bill would actually require the state to change its largely Common Core math and English language arts standards — even if someone were to take the state board to court for not changing the learning requirements.
Gov. Jim Justice has yet to sign HB 2711. The bill, among other things, also bans the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced standardized tests and eliminates the current Regional Education Service Agencies and the Office of Education Performance Audits.
Justice filed the bill’s original version, but lawmakers added in the Common Core line before passing the legislation.
Angie Summers, who controls the WV Against Common Core Facebook group and was a plaintiff in a previous lawsuit over Smarter Balanced, said she thinks the bill would require changes.
“If he signs it, the law is clear — at least it is to me,” Summers said. “I honestly have not looked at legal action. It’s something I’ve not looked at it at this time, but I have not ruled it out, I’ll put it that way.”
David Delk, a Wheeling-based attorney who has sued over Smarter Balanced and is a continuing online critic of the standards, said his biggest question about a possible suit is who would have standing as plaintiffs. He said some people from Summers’ group have also asked him what impact a suit based on HB 2711 could have.
“Comparing the current standards with the former standards and the [state] Department of Education saying this is not Common Core, I don’t think that’s going to hold up,” Delk said.
The state board, which controls the education department, has revised its Common Core standards, but they still contain mostly identical language to that national standards blueprint.
“Based on the actual standards themselves,” Delk said. “They don’t have a good argument that we don’t currently have Common Core.”
“We see no issue with it,” Justice Press Secretary Grant Herring wrote in an email about the Common Core line. “For further information you may want to contact the superintendent of schools.”
“We are fine with that and we are beyond Common Core,” state Schools Superintendent Steve Paine said of the line while testifying at an April 6 Senate Education Committee meeting.
“No, it’s not going to require them to do that at all,” Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association school employees union, said of the notion that the bill could force the state board to change. “In my opinion, it just prevents us from going back to Common Core standards, which we don’t have anyway and haven’t had in a while.”
He used the common argument that West Virginia’s standards have been similar and even predate Common Core.
“I’m not concerned at all, because if you took that literally that you couldn’t adopt any standards that were in Common Core standards, you wouldn’t have any standards,” Lee said.
“I never really thought of it as being challenged in court,” said A.J. Rogers, executive director of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators. “But I know the organization is very much in favor of leaving the standards alone and letting the teachers teach.”
Rogers has said his organization includes almost all county public school system superintendents. He said the group still wants Justice to veto the bill because it nixes the current Regional Education Service Agencies.
“We felt the Common Core was repealed when [former superintendent] Dr. [Michael] Martirano stood before the Legislature last year and said Common Core is repealed,” Rogers said.
Rogers also said there wasn’t a lot of difference between the Common Core and the pre-Common Core standards.
When asked whether he or school system clients his firm represents are concerned about a lawsuit based on HB 2711 forcing a change in the state’s standards, longtime education attorney Howard Seufer Jr. wrote in an email last week that he’s heard “no such concern from our school clients.”
Seufer, who said, “I personally have not considered the lawsuit question,” said he perhaps hasn’t heard concerns simply because school systems are currently preoccupied with staff changes for next school year, including position transfers and layoffs.
“I’m not that concerned,” said Barbara Parsons, president of the Monongalia County school board and president-elect of the West Virginia School Board Association. “The other thing is, you can sue anybody for anything and tie things up forever.”
She noted the state’s current standards aren’t exclusively Common Core.
“I think that’s very directed and specific wording to answer the needs of the people who politically did not like the Common Core concept or even the words Common Core,” she said of the bill’s language.
“I’m not overly concerned about it, but there is a possibility that could happen,” Kanawha County school board member Ryan White said of the notion that a suit could force the state to change standards.
He said a significant change in standards could cost millions because it could require buying new textbooks aligned to the new standards. He noted that even if the bill were interpreted to require a repeal, it doesn’t state the exact new standards that the state board would use.
“It’d be very confusing if that happened, as to what would occur,” White said.
Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, said he hasn’t heard any comments on the Common Core line.
“There will be no changes to what the state board has now, it’s not going to cost the taxpayers money, it’s not going to require them to start over again, it’s just going to prevent from ever going back to the Common Core,” said Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson and a member of the Senate Education Committee. Rucker was vocally anti-Common Core in this year’s legislative session.
She said the state board’s standards are “beyond Common Core.”
Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur and another Senate Education member, said he doubts the bill could force a standards change, even through a lawsuit.
But Karnes, who was also vocally against Common Core, said he wouldn’t be surprised if a judge found otherwise and mandated changes, “and my feelings wouldn’t be hurt.”
“There’s already a lot of overlap between all standards,” Karnes said. “That’s one of those questions that’ll have to be tested in court, if there’s an exact threshold.”
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