Matt Evans: Anti-Common Core Activists Should Take Heart In What They've Accomplished


HB1461, the repeal of common core in ND, has failed.

The first thing I’d like you to do is watch the video of the floor speeches immediately before the vote on HB1461.

It’s a long video.  You only need to watch the first two representatives – Schreiber-Beck and Olson.

The first speaker – the bill carrier, is my Congresswoman, newly seated member from District 25, Cynthia Schreiber-Beck.

I’ve worked with her on Republican party issues over the last year.  She is tireless and meticulous.  Her opening speech picks apart HB1461 line by line, point by point – exactly what I’d expect.  Although she is a newly seated congresswoman, her service on countless public commissions and trade groups has obviously prepared her to look over the fine print and consider the ramifications.  I don’t think she actually takes a position on common core in her speech – she merely dissects the bill text given to her.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]The real problem, in my view, with HB1461 is that it didn’t show up as a viable counter-proposal.  All of representative Olson’s criticisms were correct.  All of his reasons to get out of the smarter balanced consortium are good ones.  However, turning valid criticisms into viable bills or viable counter-proposals is notoriously difficult.[/mks_pullquote]

I care about some of the points she raised more than others.  For instance, I don’t care about the loss of a small amount of federal education dollars.  I don’t care one iota about upsetting the federal government on any of the mentioned scare topics.  I’d actually pay more local taxes if it meant giving a big middle finger to Washington DC.

However, the congresswoman made point after point about the problematic and unclear implications of the bill.  What types of contracts will the DPI be able to enter into?  Her list of possible problems was actually longer than the bill text.

The legislature must hear testimony and must work to amend and revise bills, but ultimately, they must vote on the bills presented to them.

I know that many of the readers here are fans of Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Justin Amash, and Thomas Massie – the “liberty quartet”, as I’ll call them.  What you’ll find from these four are numerous occasions where they vote differently than you might have expected.  It often takes some explaining to understand why they vote the way they do.  For instance, Ron Paul once famously voted against giving Mother Theresa a Gold medal.  The problem, as he saw it, was that this was not something the congress was authorized to do.  He thought giving her a Gold medal was a fine idea, and tried to start a collection from his fellow congressmen to fund it.  But he took his office seriously, and refused to commit the taxpayers money to this award, as it lay outside the proper scope of congressional activity.

At times, legislators must vote against bills that are trying to do the right thing, but which do it in the wrong way.

I don’t know what my congresswoman’s position is on common core, but I do know that she raised numerous legitimate complaints with the text of HB1461, and it’s her job to vote on the bill she receives – not the bill she wishes she got.

Ultimately, she voted “No”.

The next speech to happen during the HB1461 hearings was from newly seated Congressman Christopher Olson.  I also consider Congressman Olson a friend, whom I knew long before he had aspirations for pubic office.  I know that he is a fantastic advocate of liberty, a business owner, and the kind of politician who thinks about things principally, and that we should wish to have more representatives like him in our chambers.

I have to agree with all of the points Olson made.  Generally speaking, I oppose common core.  I oppose federal oversight of education.  I oppose letting other states bind us to decisions about how to educate and test our children.  He spoke eloquently on why we shouldn’t be subject to the SBAC, and indicated that the concerns raised against HB1461 are probably not insurmountable.

Ultimately, he voted “Yes”.

So here I am, I’ve listened to opposing viewpoints from two people I respect and have spoken to at length; I know them both, I know they both want to make North Dakota a better place to live, and yet they ended up voting differently from each other on the same bill.

What am I to make of this?

Let’s rewind a bit.  It is the 1780s.  The thirteen colonies have managed to do the impossible – they have successfully seceded from the British government.  They have struggled along under the Articles of Confederation, and some distinct problems have emerged that threaten the future of the nation.

Hamilton and Madison are the architects of the new Constitution – a design for a new federal government that is much stronger and more centralized than the previous arrangement.  The people are broadly of two minds about this.  The Federalists – led by Hamilton and Madison, favor the new, strong central government proposal.  In their view, it has the best chance of addressing the problems experienced under the articles of confederation.  Madison in particular is a student of history, and has contemplated deeply the previous failures of societies which had attempted varying degrees of self-government.  A tremendous amount of thought has gone into this constitution.

However, not everyone is pleased with the new design.  A group we’d now call the anti-federalists have written numerous essays which offer specific critiques of the proposed government.  No less a man than Thomas Jefferson is a key anti-federalist, and opposes the new constitution.  The anti-federalists submit detailed criticisms of the proposal, and detailed rebuttals to the “Federalist Papers” published thus far by Hamilton, Madison, and others.

Let us return to the present day.

To their credit, over 200 years ago, the anti-federalists correctly predicted the growth of federal power, and the abuse of liberties that the constitution allowed.  People who say we aren’t following the constitution these days are certainly partially correct – but not entirely.  The anti-federalists predicted much of what has happened, and yet the nation pressed forward anyhow.  Hamilton might look at the government of today and promise he never meant for this to happen, whereas Jefferson might respond with a scornful “I told you so”.

Why did the federalists “win”, and saddle us with a constitution that allowed for the massive federal behemoth we have today?  The anti-federalists warned us!  They were correct!  Why didn’t the anti-federalists win the debate in 1787?  Why, did Thomas Jefferson, arch anti-federalist, ultimately sign the new constitution he opposed?

The problem that the anti-federalists never dealt with was actually having a viable alternate proposal.  Their concerns and criticisms about the constitution were correct – the constitution really does have the problems they were worried about.  But the states were convinced they needed a new national government, and since there was no viable competing proposal, they ratified the constitution placed in front of them — not the one the anti-federalists never produced.  The rest is history.

It may help to think about HB1461 in this way – from both perspectives.  I’ve heard more than one person say they aren’t enthusiastic about how common core works or is being implemented, but that they also aren’t satisfied with doing nothing.

The real problem, in my view, with HB1461 is that it didn’t show up as a viable counter-proposal.  All of representative Olson’s criticisms were correct.  All of his reasons to get out of the smarter balanced consortium are good ones.  However, turning valid criticisms into viable bills or viable counter-proposals is notoriously difficult.  Thomas Jefferson couldn’t get it done; these best he could manage was a compromise we call the “Bill of Rights”.

The legislature wasn’t convinced that HB1461 really represents a viable alternative to what we have today.  Most people agree that we need a state education policy.  The original version of HB1461 was to exit the consortium and replace it with something unclear and with numerous problems.  When the problems with the original alternative in 1461 began to emerge, the bill backers had to call “Division” and tell people to ignore the 2nd half of the bill — the portion that was to replace common core once we exited it.

In effect, the final bill that came to the house floor was “get us out of common core, and we’ll figure out the rest later”

I agree that we should get out of common core, and I agree that we could probably figure something out.

However, the legislators today voted on the bill they had, not the one they might have wished for.  In accordance with traditional American politics, the status quo survives until the reformers come up with a concrete alternative that can stand on its own merits.

I look forward to seeing future efforts at reforming our state education standards.  Although the modified HB1461 failed today, it very nearly passed.  The level of frustration with the current policy is so severe that a bill that in effect said “just stop what we’re doing and let us think of something else later” almost passed the house.

Reformers should take heart in what was nearly accomplished on Wednesday.