Pulling a Reagan Against Common Core
The end of local control of education looms as 46 states have signed onto the Common Core, a set of national K-12 education standards and federally funded tests. Opposition to it, though, is suddenly burgeoning into a full-blown national movement, with 13 states either not participating or seriously rethinking the issue.
Governors and potential presidential candidates should especially take note. In state after state, parents, especially moms, have driven the movement against the Common Core. It's hasn't seen much coverage by talk radio, and perhaps for that reason many elected leaders have failed to notice the fervor and rising opposition. But they should not underestimate the American people. They will soon have to account for their action, or inaction.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence is one such leader. Indiana is among the latest states to question the wisdom of the Common Core. There, the state senate recently voted 38-11 in favor of anti-Common Core legislation. And Pence now has the opportunity to affirm the state's desire for local control over education, well separate from government bureaucrats and big money interests.
But it is unclear what Governor Pence will do. Will he stand with other governors, such as those of as Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, and actively oppose the Common Core? Will he lead his appointed State Board of Education out of the program? As we await answers, we are reminded of a similar point in history. It was a time, like now, when the odds of federalizing a locally-governed program seemed inevitable.
The year was 1970, and politicians were debating the Family Assistance Plan (FAP), which would have federalized America's welfare systems. It seemed all but certain that FAP would become law, since it was supported by President Richard Nixon, as well as forty-nine governors. However, one lone governor dissented -- Ronald Reagan of California.
When the issue came before the National Governors Association, Reagan, in a gesture that must have seemed futile at the time, bravely cast the sole dissenting vote. He did so knowing that he was crossing the sitting president of his own party, and that the odds were heavily stacked against him. He cast his vote anyway. It was the moment that Reagan the "movie-star" governor gave way to Reagan the future president.
Reagan relentlessly pursued the issue. He wrote letters to each governor and to every member of Congress. He hammered them on the huge costs that would be incurred, and the wrongheadedness of nationalizing a state and local matter. In a harbinger of things to come, then Congressman George H. W. Bush sent Reagan a four-page, single-spaced letter, pointing out his areas of disagreement. That proved to be a mistake. In their U.S. Senate race, Democrat Lloyd Bentsen used it to characterize Bush as supporting "big government solutions." Bush lost.
On the other hand, Reagan paved the way for the bipartisan welfare reforms of the 1990s.
The moral of the story? Ronald Reagan chose to lead at a time when it would have been easier to follow. He proved his leadership mettle, which launched him onto the national political stage and ultimately into the White House.
Today's governors who reject the Common Core, like Reagan before them, will have to oppose the National Governor's Association. They will have to oppose another member of the Bush dynasty, Jeb Bush, the point-person for convincing Republicans to buy into the Common Core. They will have to lead.
Of the many governors who can take the lead, none is as poised to do so as Governor Mike Pence. Not only is the costly Common Core at odds with his fiscal conservatism, but Pence had the wisdom to oppose the last federal education failure, No Child Left Behind. What's more, he governs a state that previously had one of the best sets of standards in the nation -- standards, in the words of Common Core proponents, that are "clearly superior" to the Common Core. Finally, Indiana is home to one of the largest and most bipartisan grassroots opposition movements to the Common Core in the country.
For Pence, the question remains. Will he realize that this is another important moment in U.S. history -- a moment that calls for bold leadership and has the potential to become a truly defining one, both for him as a leader and for the nation?
Heather Crossin, a former staffer to U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, is mother and a founder of Hoosiers Against Common Core.