MADISON, Wis. – The people of Wisconsin and at least some of their elected representatives are demanding to learn more about the new Common Core academic standards for K-12 schools.
Yet a joint committee of the state legislature is still dragging its feet about scheduling a series of public hearings on the new national academic standards.
Some Common Core opponents wonder if that’s because the co-chairman of the committee, a powerful state senator, is married to a woman who runs an agency that’s paid to implement Common Core.
The new state budget, adopted earlier this year, requests that the Joint Legislative Council, comprised of senators and assembly members, to do a thorough study of the Common Core issue. Part of that process would include a series of public hearings.
The council is apparently not obligated by law to honor that request.
The budget also calls for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to host three public hearings on Common Core. They have yet to be scheduled.
There is good reason to have public hearings. The new national Common Core standards in English and math, and soon in science, are a radical departure from traditional standards in public schools. Public education will change dramatically under the new system.
Yet Common Core was approved in Wisconsin with very little publicity and the signature of just one man – Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers.
That was back in 2011, when most states were quietly accepting the federal government’s push to adopt Common Core in exchange for federal dollars through the “Race to the Top“ program.
The new standards weren’t even fully developed at the time, let alone field tested (something which has never occurred, by the way). But state officials knew their schools were desperate for cash, so they agreed to whatever stipulations the feds attached to the money.
Since then Common Core standards have been implemented to some degree in many schools, and the public is starting to notice and voice concern. Most had no idea what Evers was getting the state into when he signed the dotted line in 2011, and they want to make sure he didn’t make a huge mistake.
Yet their opportunity to attend public hearings and learn more about the issue may be slipping away. In the meantime schools are continuing to implement the standards, meaning the horse could potentially escape before anyone has a chance to close the barn door.
Some think that’s exactly what state Sen. Luther Olsen has in mind.
Is there a conflict of interest?
Olsen is co-chair of the Joint Legislative Council, which has yet to respond to the call for a study on Common Core and public hearings on the issue.
A number of concerned citizens from various limited government groups recently delivered a letter to Gov. Scott Walker, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, protesting the committee’s continued delays.
“Two months have now passed since the (budget) amendment stipulating multiple hearings on (Common Core),” says the letter, which is dated Aug. 8. “Ostensibly the Joint Legislative Committee, tasked with holding several of those hearings, should have something on the calendar by now.
“Yet, instead of seeing action, we are receiving reports from inside the Capitol building that the (committee) co-chairs, Senator Luther Olsen and Representative Joan Ballweg, are running the clock to avoid holding the hearings at all.
“The people of Wisconsin have a right to learn the facts about (Common Core). Those elected officials tasked with investigating the program have a duty to perform. We expect them to perform it in a responsible and timely fashion.”
The letter writers went on to note that Common Core is being implemented by schools around the state every day, and that process should cease until all hearings are held, questions answered and final decisions made.
“If the hearings cannot be completed on time, then the continuing rollout of English and math standards must be paused, pending further investigation,” they wrote. “A pause, in fact, would be the only responsible action to ensure that (1) the legislature is well informed, (2) the public has a chance to weigh in on these standards, and (3) the children of Wisconsin are well served.”
The letter writers note that Olsen is both the co-chair of the Joint Legislative Council and chair of the Senate Education Committee, which is “a logical avenue both for future investigation of (Common Core) and consideration of any legislation pertaining to these educational standards. All of this means that Senator Olsen is in a powerful position in relationship to how or whether (Common Core) will be considered at the legislative level.”
That’s a problem for the letter writers, considering Olsen’s marital status and what they consider a potential conflict of interest.
They note that his wife is former state Rep. Joan Wade, who since 2001 “has served as the administrator for CESA 6, one of 12 regional, quasi-governmental agencies responsible to the Wisconsin Department of Instruction, the agency that unilaterally adopted (Common Core) in this state.”
Moreover, they write that CESA 6 “is charged with facilitating the implementation of (Common Core).”
“Senator Olsen’s apparent conflict of interest currently mars two of the three legislative committees with the greatest power to conduct investigations into (Common Core) and/or consider legislative action pertinent to it,” the letter said. “As a result of this situation, Wisconsinites will not be able to trust that Senator Olsen is able to rise above his own biases or that, under his leadership, the two committees in question are acting wholly in the interests of the people of this state.
“We would thus urge Senator Olsen’s reassignment to other committees in order to keep faith with the people of Wisconsin.”
They make a very good point.