Arizona Senate kills ban on Common Core standards

PHOENIX - A few key Republican senators joined with Democrats on Wednesday to defeat a bill that would have prohibited Arizona from using a set of educational standards known nationally as Common Core.

The Arizona Senate failed to pass Senate Bill 1310, sponsored by Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, after giving it initial approval Tuesday.

Senators Adam Driggs of Phoenix and Steve Pierce of Prescott were among the five Republicans who broke rank with their party and helped Democrats defeat the bill. The others were John McComish of Ahwatukee, Michele Reagan of Scottsdale and Bob Worsley of Mesa.  The Senate killed the bill with an 18-12 vote.

The bill would have prohibited the state from using a set of new educational standards accepted by most of the nation that Arizona adopted in 2010 without opposition. Melvin and others say the standards are a poorly conceived federal effort to usurp states' rights.

Common Core standards aim to focus learning on comprehension and real life examples and were designed by a national, bipartisan group of governors and education leaders to better prepare students for college and the job market.

Gov. Jan Brewer has supported Common Core and renamed the standards the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards.

However, Melvin has said, "many citizens, I think the majority, have fundamental problems with Common Core and its implementation in the state. I believe that we, as a state, can do a far better job in this area than the federal government dictating to us, and that's the thrust of this bill."

Supporters of Common Core standards say eliminating the program would cost Arizona millions in federal funding and would make the state less economically competitive. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce oppose the repeal effort.

"The folks that you rely on oftentimes are adamantly opposed to this bill. I would urge you to pay attention to the business community like you tried to last week, like the governor certainly did," Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson said.

Bradley was referencing Senate Bill 1062, the now infamous religious rights bill that Brewer vetoed after pressure from the business community. Civil rights groups said that bill would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gays.

Opponents of Melvin's bill also say getting rid of Common Core would be a disservice to the many Arizona school districts that have spent millions of dollars implementing the program since 2010. Additionally, the Arizona Department of Education receives about $1 billion annually in federal funds for Common Core implementation. Potentially, all of that funding is at risk if Arizona moves away from the standards, according to the department.

However, education advocates say it's hard to track down a specific dollar cost figure because each school district handles its own implementation. A spokeswoman for Gilbert Public Schools, which has adopted Common Core, said the district does not keep implementation costs in one set of data.

Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said the legislature should not make decisions based on whether or not schools have already invested in the program but on what is the best policy for the state. Biggs supported Melvin's bill and voted in favor of it.

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