Video: Bill To Withdraw North Dakota From Common Core Fails After 1.5 Hour Debate


Heading into the floor fight over Common Core today in the state House the plan was for Rep. Jim Kasper to offer up amendments to his anti-Common Core bill (HB1461) on the floor. Typically amendments are done in committee. Approving amendments on the House floor is very different.

Thus, shortly before the floor session today, the plan changed. Instead supporters of HB1461 sought to divide the bill into two parts.

Division A would have withdrawn North Dakota from the Smarter Balanced Consortium which is an interstate compact organization which is implementing the Common Core standards. Division B was everything else in Kasper’s bill which even supporters acknowledged was bad policy.

Both divisions failed; Division A on a narrow 43-46 vote and Division B on a 89-0 vote.

The floor debate (which is worth your time to watch) kicked off with a lengthy introduction from Rep. Cynthia Schreiber-Beck (R-Wahpeton) who carried the bill to the floor out of the House education committee which had given it a “do not pass” recommendation. Some wags in the House chamber were texting me to suggest that Beck’s speech was written for her by someone in the Department of Public Instruction. “If the executive branch wants to give speeches in the House chamber they should run for a seat,” one lawmaker told me.

UPDATE: Another lawmaker disputes the idea that Scheiber-Beck had someone else write her speech. “The bill carrier wrote every word of that CC bill speech,” he told me. “Believe me if u know Cindy. She wrote it herself.”

Once Schreiber-Beck concluded her speech Rep. Chris Olson (R-West Fargo) rose to request that the bill be divided. He then proceeded to make the case for withdrawal from the Smarter Balanced Consortium.

During his speech Olson put his finger on what I think is at the root of all the controversy over Common Core. He described the furor surrounding the standards as “the fallout of our failure to have a vigorous debate” about them before implementation.

There are different perceptions about that. Supporters of Common Core would no doubt point to the proceedings of public officials who hitched North Dakota to the standards. Others might argue that the the public wasn’t exactly clued in to those proceedings.

Olson acknowledged that Division A was the only part of the bill worth passing. “We recognize that the rest of this bill had flaws,” he said.

That’s probably a tacit acknowledgement of the poor job Rep. Jim Kasper of Fargo did in pushing this issue. There is a lot of disappointment in his performance in spearheading the anti-Common Core push in the legislature among activists I’ve spoken to. Certainly bringing a bill to the floor while acknowledging that vast portions of it are flawed isn’t a sign of competence.

On the pro-Common Core side, most of the argument came from House Education Committee Chairman Mike Nathe (R-Bismarck) who referenced a parade of horribles which would take place if North Dakota withdraws from the standards. Everything from lost federal funding to civil rights lawsuits over the state supposedly applying uneven standards to minority students.

That seemed like quite the leap to me – were we violating people’s civil rights before Common Core? – but it seems to have worked as the anti-Common Core side lost.

Still, it took the combined forces of the state’s teacher and public worker unions, the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, and a host of school administrator and school district associations to eke out a narrow victory over fundamentally flawed legislation.

I’m not sure if anti-Common Core activists can get satisfaction in this session now that HB1461 has failed, but I think it’s safe to say this issue isn’t dead. If I were Superintendent Kirsten Baesler, I’d be readying myself for a fierce nomination battle at the 2016 NDGOP convention.