Is the federal government in control of your child's school?

Is the federal government in control of your child's school?
BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- Common Core has been hotly debated from the beginning.

Stacey Knudsen and Stephanie Zimmerman are with Idahoans for Local Education. They say the federal government has gained control of the nation’s education system.

“If you look at all of the enticements, the money and the strings and the way that the federal government certainly coerced states into signing on to it, it certainly has the feel of a federal government program to it,” said Stephanie Zimmerman , founder of Idahoans for Local Education (I4LE).

“I think it’s important for Idahoans to know that there’s no federal coercion here. Idaho has not received one federal dollar because we have chosen to adopt these standards,” said Tom Luna, superintendent of Public Instruction.

Zimmerman says the federal government did not take over the education system overnight. It happened in step, she said.

In 2009, during the recession the federal government doled out billions of dollars to the states through the American Recovery and Re-Investment Act (ARRA). But in order to get the money, states had to agree to make changes to education referred to in the documents as “assurances.”

“What does the federal government do when they want something? They hold out a carrot and say hey.. you can have this money if you will do these things. And we accepted it,” Knudsen said.

Idaho received $1.7 billion in ARRA funds.

These following are the four broad education assurances Idaho and other states agreed to:

1. Improve teacher effectiveness

2. Establish a longitudinal data system to track student progress and tie it to teacher performance

3. Implement tougher academic standards and assessments

4. Focus on supporting struggling schools

Superintendent Luna justifies going for the ARRA funds.

"It was a considerable amount of money and remember that's at the very depths of the recession. School districts all across Idaho and all across the country and government agencies.. state agencies were looking at huge cuts," Luna said.

As an alternative to No Child Left Behind, in 2010 President Obama announced his education reform package, Race To The Top. It encouraged states to compete for grant money. In order to win, states had to meet what’s called “state reform criteria.” The criteria are essentially the assurances in greater detail.

In the RTTT executive summary it shows states must adopt common standards, and these standards must involve a significant number of states. Idaho applied for the first round of grants and didn’t win, but the reforms are still in place.

At this point, The National Governors Association was developing Common Core, which served many states in two key areas. It prepared them to go for RTTT grants and it helped them get a waiver to opt out of the unpopular NCLB education reform package introduced by former President Bush.

To receive a waiver from NCLB, states had to adopt “college and career ready standards. Common Core satisfies the requirements.

“Under the waiver we were required to make assurances that we have college and career ready standards. So Idaho had already adopted the Common Core Standards. That was our evidence that we had college and career ready standards," Luna said.

Idaho decided to join one of two groups of states called The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The group is charged with developing assessment tests that measure the full scope of Common Core. The federal government is funding the consortium to the tune of $175 million.

Because the federal government is funding SBAC, The U.S. Department of Education has what I4LE would call control. The agreement between USDED, SBAC and Washington State (which is the lead state in SBAC), defines roles and responsibilities of the parties.

Patrick Rooney is the program officer. He works for USDED and his office is in Washington D.C. Just a few of his responsibilities are:

1. Provide feedback on SBAC reports, plans, even selection of key personnel

2. Approve modification to the design activities

3. Stop or redirect proposed activities if projected outcomes are inconsistent with the intended project outcomes

"It goes to show you this is more federal than they want us to believe it is and actually we belong to the SBAC which is 26 states, but we can leave this consortium but it takes five separate steps and one of those steps.. the last step.. is getting permission from the USDED. So if this isn't a federal program why do we need permission from Washington DC to get out?" Zimmerman said.

"You know we're always vigilant, we're not relinquishing our sovereignty. We're not turning over the education of our children to any entity outside of Idaho and we will remain firm that it's the case today and remains in the future,” Superintendent Luna said.

Forty five states, Washington D.C. and four territories have signed onto Common Core. Forty four states, Washington D.C. and 4 territories are members in 1 of 2 consortia.

According to the Atlantic, Kentucky was the first state to adopt Common Core standards three years ago. So far test scores have not improved.