Parents, teachers and members of the Oklahoma Board of Education asked the state Supreme Court Wednesday to throw out a law repealing Common Core academic standards.
They allege in a petition filed with the court that a bill signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin on June 5 is unconstitutional because it gives the Legislature too much power to come up with a new set of benchmarks to replace the rigorous math and English standards in Oklahoma schools.
Under House Bill 3399, the state Board of Education would draft new standards, but the Legislature would have the power to change those standards as it sees fit.
This encroaches on the constitutional authority of the board and violates the constitutional principal of separation of powers, the petition says.
“This suit does not contend that the Legislature can have no role in education,” said Robert G. McCampbell, the attorney who filed the legal action. “The policy for schools in Oklahoma is an appropriate role for the Legislature.
“For example, the petitioners concede that the Legislature has the constitutional authority to repeal Common Core. House Bill 3399, however, goes beyond setting policy and would have the Legislature involved in actually administering what would be happening inside Oklahoma classrooms by having the Legislature control the drafting of the subject matter standards.”
He said this goes well beyond the making of legislative policy and potentially delves into such things as whether first-graders will be taught the value of various coins, what year students will be taught cursive handwriting and whether second-grade math students should be taught decimal notation.
Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Fallin, said she hopes the court could provide clarity on the legislative review portion of the law, without affecting the main section of the law repealing Common Core.
However, McCampbell said in an interview that this portion can’t be severed from the bill without the entire measure being rejected.
“The test is, could you sever the unconstitutional provision and have the rest of the act perform in accordance with Legislature’s intent,” he said. “In this case, having the Legislature control the process for developing new standards is the primary intent, so if that part of the act fails, the entire act must fail.”
One of the petitioners, Heather Sparks, a teacher and a parent of a student in Edmond, said she feels repeal of Common Core standards is not in the best interests of her child.
“As a parent, I want my child to be taught according to standards that are competitive, if not superior to, those in surrounding states,” she said.
“Instead, we are reverting to minimum standards that are nearly five years old.”
The measure says that while the new standards are being developed, the state is to return to Priority Academic Student Skills standards that were in place from 2003 to 2010.
Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, said the bill was drafted with input from staff attorneys who said it was constitutional.
“Mr. McCampbell is a well-respected attorney and I respectfully disagree,” he said. “Nobody made this argument in 2010 when the Legislature told the state Board of Education in statute to adopt Common Core standards. There is no difference here.”
He said he hopes the court rules quickly so that educators can have direction as they prepare for the new school year.