With their bill to suspend Florida’s new education benchmarks stalled in the Legislature, opponents of the Common Core State Standards are pursuing a new strategy.
They are turning the heat up on Gov. Rick Scott.
Last Sunday, about 80 members of the group Florida Parents Against Common Core protested outside a private fundraiser for Scott on Jupiter Island. Members of another group, Stop Common Core Florida, traveled to Tallahassee on Thursday to meet with Scott’s top education adviser, they said.
What’s more, the Republican Party of Florida’s Legislative Affairs Committee issued a formal resolution last month, urging Scott to take executive action against the standards.
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“It’s time for Rick Scott to listen to the people,” said Chris Quackenbush, a grandmother and businesswoman who drove from Fort Myers to Tallahassee on Thursday to make her point. “How does he expect to win reelection without his base?”
Indeed, the continuing controversy over the standards puts Scott in a political pickle.
Most of the Common Core critics in Florida are the same people who propelled Scott into office in 2010: conservative families and Tea Party groups.
Scott is relying on their votes. But in order to defeat former Gov. Charlie Crist in November, Scott must also appeal to more moderate Republicans, many of whom support the new standards.
That seems to be the path he’s choosing. On Thursday, Scott said he is committed to a revised version of the education benchmarks, known as the Florida Standards.
“We’re doing the right thing,” Scott said, noting that he tried to allay concerns by soliciting public input last year.
Florida adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010, before Scott became the state’s chief executive.
The state did not act alone. Forty-four other states and the District of Columbia also approved the benchmarks, which outline what a student should know at each grade level.
Supporters, a bi-partisan coalition that included former Gov. Jeb Bush and other high-profile Republican leaders, said the Common Core standards encouraged critical thinking and analytical skills, and were more rigorous than the benchmarks being used in individual states.
But the Common Core became a political flashpoint in 2013, when critics from the far right argued that education decisions should be made at the state and local level.
Scott responded by holding public hearings on the standards and derailing Florida’s plans to use an assessment developed by a multi-state testing consortium. Later, the state Board of Education approved some tweaks to the benchmarks and re-named them the Florida Standards.
But opponents were not satisfied.
They pushed state Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, and Sen. Greg Evers, R-Pensacola, to file bills that would stop the Common Core State Standards.
So far, the proposals have not gained traction in the Legislature. Neither Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, nor House Education Committee Chairwoman Marlene O’Toole, R-Lady Lake, plan to take the issue up.
“We have some big issues coming up and only about three more weeks for committee meetings,” Legg said. “We probably won’t be getting to bills [on issues] that have already been decided.”
Opponents are now turning to Scott.
In a February resolution, the Republican Party of Florida Legislative Affairs Committee urged Scott “to exercise his Constitutional authority and notify the proper state and federal agencies of the state of Florida’s desire to immediately end its obligation to any standards or agreements with the federal government, and immediately cease implementation of ‘common core’ standards (by any name) in the state Florida.”
Additional protests are planned, as is a conference for opponents in Orlando.
Laura Zorc, a co-founder of Florida Parents Against Common Core, said Scott “needs to be concerned.”
“The opponents are primarily Republican and conservative voters,” she said.
Scott, however, is comfortable with the position he has taken.
State education officials have not stopped the transition to the Florida Standards. And Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is expected to select the new state assessments that will accompany the benchmarks later this month.
Scott said he has told the federal government “they shouldn’t be telling us how to run our education system.” He also said local school districts would continue to have authority over curriculum and classroom materials.
“We have the Florida Standards and those standards will continue to evolve,” Scott said. “But we believe in Florida Standards.”
Tampa Bay Times staff writer Marlene Sokol contributed to this report.