Sen. Russ Fulcher's Common Core reversal

'I don't want to be (like) every state. I want to be better,' he says.

IDAHOEDNEWS.ORGApril 16, 2014 

fulcher, otter, governor, candidate, candidacy, unseat, republic

Just a month after announcing that he would hold an exploratory campaign, Sen. Russ Fulcher formally kicked off a run for governor Saturday, with new video ads, logos and a gubernatorial website, russfulcher.com.

KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com

Russ Fulcher says he changed his mind about Common Core for a simple reason: "It didn't come as advertised.

Fulcher said he thought the math and English standards would etch local control into Idaho education, but he now believes the opposite has occurred. Even though State Department of Education staffers have been involved in developing the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exams, Fulcher doesn't believe Idaho had significant input in writing the Common Core-aligned exams.

So as Fulcher, R-Meridian, travels the state on his gubernatorial campaign, he is having to explain why he now opposes standards he supported in the Senate Education Committee in 2011.

"I'm not embarrassed by that at all," he said.

Common Core is not a centerpiece issue for Fulcher. But it provides one distinction between him Fulcher and Gov. Butch Otter - the two main candidates in a GOP primary.

REPEALING THE CORE?

Fulcher is a convert to the Idaho Core Standards opposition; Otter has remained a steadfast supporter. Otter says the standards will bring more rigor into the state's schools.

"Idaho Core Standards reflect the development of public policy as the Founders envisioned it - driven by the states as the laboratories of the republic," Otter wrote in a March 22 guest opinion in the Statesman.

Last August, 30 of the 31 members of Otter's education reform task force voted in favor of the standards. The vote reflects a breadth of support, from the Legislature, from education stakeholder groups, and from the business community.

A.J. Balukoff, a Boise School Board member who faces only token opposition in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, also supports the standards, writing in the Statesman that they "help create thinkers, not just students who test well because they've memorized information."

Fulcher might be an outlier, but he is promising a bold move. If elected, he says he would push for a repeal - following the lead of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who signed an unprecedented state law last month to repeal the standards.

If Fulcher is serious, why didn't he press the issue during the 2014 session?

Repeal is complicated, he said. It would have required several bills to peel back the standards, approved by the Legislature's education committees, in the form of an administrative rule.

Fulcher realizes the process would be no less complicated in 2015 - if he has the chance to preside over a repeal as governor. And he downplays the potential political resistance to repeal. He said a state-based standard could find broad support.

TASK FORCE POLITICS

Common Core is just one of 20 recommendations from the Otter education task force. On the rest of the package, the distinctions between Otter and Fulcher become more murky.

"The diverse membership effectively put aside politics and personal agendas in developing recommendations that I enthusiastically endorse," Otter said during his state of the state address in January.

Fulcher is more muted about the plan - which includes everything from a new teacher salary schedule to a renewed push for classroom technology, and carries an overall price tag of $350 million or more.

"I don't think they're necessarily bad," he said, "but the whole thing hinges on more money, more money."

Balukoff says the 2014-15 K-12 budget does not move quickly enough to implement the task force recommendations.

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