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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher July 25, 2014

Federal government required states to adopt Common Core school standards, congressional hopeful says

Gov. Scott Walker joined other potential Republican candidates for president when, in a surprise move, he called on the Wisconsin Legislature to repeal the Common Core education standards.

State Sen. Joe Leibham, one of four Republicans seeking the GOP nomination for an open seat in Congress, applauded the announcement two days later.

"Like Governor Walker, I believe education decisions should be made at the local and state level, not through federal mandates like Common Core," he said in a July 19, 2014 news release.

Common Core -- a federal mandate?

No. That's a lesson we've learned before.

Let's review.

The race

GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, who has represented east-central Wisconsin in Congress since 1979, announced in April 2014 that he would not seek re-election. That was a week after state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-Campbellsport, announced he would run.

Jumping in later were Leibham, of the Town of Sheboygan, state Rep. Duey Stroebel of the Town of Cedarburg and political newcomer Tom Denow of the Town of Algoma in Winnebago County.

The winner of the Aug. 12, 2014 primary will face Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary, in the November 2014 general election.

On the GOP side, much of the campaigning has centered on which candidate is the most conservative.

Common Core's origins

Increasingly, conservatives around the country have attacked the Common Core State Standards, a set of standards for English and math that were unveiled in 2010. The criticism has stirred debate about the federal government's role in the standards and whether the renewed focus on them is strictly political.

Tony Evers, the elected Wisconsin school superintendent, used his authority to have the state adopt Common Core in June 2010. More than three years later, in October 2013, the GOP-majority Legislature began holding hearings with the aim of reviewing and perhaps replacing Common Core. At the time, Evers said the pushback in Madison and elsewhere "is all about what's going on in Washington. It's all about controlling the message and the next (presidential) election."

Also in October 2013, we rated as Mostly True a claim by state Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Cross Plains, a Common Core supporter. She said Common Core "is not from the federal government," they "do not have their fingerprints on this thing at all."

Here's what we learned at the time:

Common Core came out of years of discussion between private nonprofit groups and state education departments. The goal: to better prepare students for college and careers and ensure that students in different states learn the same academic concepts.

Featured Fact-check

The Council of Chief State School Officers -- a national organization of public officials who head state education departments -- discussed developing common standards during its annual policy forum in 2007, a year before Barack Obama won the presidency. In 2009, that council and the National Governors Association agreed to create Common Core. They developed the standards with the help of teachers, parents and experts.

Although Common Core is voluntary, the federal government has had a role in encouraging states to adopt the standards.

States earned the equivalent of extra points in the competition for grants from Race to the Top, Obama’s signature education program, if they had adopted standards to prepare students for college and work. They didn't have to adopt Common Core, but they were better positioned for federal money if they did.

Linking Race to the Top funding and Common Core is what Leibham cited to defend his claim.

"In this era of tight budgets, tying federal funding to the adoption of specific education initiatives like Common Core is inherently coercive," Leibham campaign spokesman Ryan Terrill wrote in an email.

"As Wisconsin struggles to maintain appropriate funding for K-12 education amid increasingly scarce (state) resources and declining property tax revenues in many districts, any individual suggesting that Wisconsin not try for RTTT funding would be ridiculed.  Therefore, Wisconsin’s grant application and the strings attached really were not entirely a matter of choice."

But that doesn't make Common Core a mandate -- a fact that has been reported repeatedly since we checked the Pope claim. Four examples, from March and April 2014:

1. PolitiFact Georgia noted that one of the leaders in developing Common Core, former Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia, said it was a way to "prevent a federal mandate" in education.

2. U.S. News & World Report, in an article headlined "Common Core: Myths and Facts," labeled as the first myth: "The Common Core State Standards are a federally mandated curriculum."

The article pointed out that the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act forbids the federal government from intervening in school curriculum development and that states independently adopted Common Core.

3. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, reported that Common Core is voluntary and, the curriculum and teaching methods are decided locally.

4. The Washington Post -- reporting on Indiana being the first state to pull out of Common Core after being among the first of 45 states to adopt it -- said Common Core isn't a federal mandate, and noted it was developed in part through the National Governors Association.

Indeed, the fact that not every state adopted Common Core -- and that Indiana, as well as Oklahoma and South Carolina adopted it and later dropped it -- underscore that the standards aren't mandatory.

As does the fact that Walker is calling on the Legislature to repeal them.

Our rating

Leibham said the Common Core education standards are a federal mandate.

States put themselves in better position for federal education funding by adopting Common Core. But the school standards were voluntary for states to adopt, not mandatory, and some have since pulled out of the program -- just as Wisconsin is considering doing.

We rate the statement False. 

To comment on this item, go to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s web page.

Our Sources

Joe Leibham campaign, news release, July 19, 2014

Email interview, Joe Leibham campaign spokesman Ryan Terrill, July 22, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "How much is the federal government involved in the Common Core school standards?," Oct. 24, 2013

PolitiFact Georgia, "Common Core claim doesn’t make the grade," April 29, 2014

U.S. News & World Report, "Common Core: Myths and Facts," March 4, 2014

Washington Post, "Indiana first state to pull out of Common Core," March 25, 2014

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Common Core 101: A primer to separate education fact from fiction," March 5, 2014

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More by Tom Kertscher

Federal government required states to adopt Common Core school standards, congressional hopeful says

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