Florida's battle over the Common Core State Standards heads to the public this week with three open forums for residents to speak their minds on what Florida children learn.
And interest is high.
More than 4,000 people have lodged opinions with the state in advance of the forums, which are being held at the urging of Gov. Rick Scott. In contrast, a couple of hundred people submitted comments when the State Board of Education first considered adopting the standards in 2010.
With the first hearing set for Tuesday in Tampa, both supporters and opponents of the standards have questioned whether their views will really matter.
"They're basically saying, 'Yeah, we're doing these hearings but we don't expect much to change,' " said Karen Effrem, co-founder of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition.
She referred to statements by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and other officials, in which they spoke of making minor adjustments to the standards but continuing with the general implementation.
Lynne Webb, president of United School Employees of Pasco County, also had doubts. She cited Scott's decision to hold a public education summit in late August, then meet privately the same week to discuss education with former Gov. Jeb Bush, state Sen. John Thrasher and state Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand.
The union "does not have confidence that the hearings will be worthwhile," Webb said in an email. "Instead we will be encouraging our teachers to put their valuable time to better use and email any comments they may have."
She suggested that the discussion should not be about whether to implement the standards, but rather how to do so most effectively.
Florida is among more than 40 states that have adopted the Common Core standards, which are more complex and rigorous than the state's current standards.
Scott called for the public hearings amid outcry, primarily from his tea party base, that the Common Core is inappropriate for a variety of reasons. Once a supporter of the standards, which Bush has championed, Scott lately has refused to offer his opinion on them and has raised the prospect that they could lead to "federal government intrusion into our classrooms."
Stewart, along with state Senate leaders, has called for anyone with questions or concerns about the standards to provide details so the department can consider whether to tweak them. That's the expectation at this week's hearings, which Stewart intends to open with introductory remarks before turning over the floor to speakers.
Anyone who wants to participate will be asked to fill out a speaker card and will be called in order. The department has not set a time limit for each speaker, saying that the length will depend on how many people show up.
The hearings are set to run three hours, and the goal is to allow as many people as possible to participate, spokeswoman Tiffany Cowie said. Organizers would like to stick to specific standards, she said, but if someone wishes to comment more broadly, "they will let them stand up and speak their piece."
Effrem said she plans to attend and have a "significant discussion" about her objections to Common Core. She expressed hope that decision makers will take opponents seriously.
"I think (Scott) realizes what deep political trouble he is in with his base, and is trying to do everything he can to appease them," she said. "But he also has to, unfortunately, deal with the corporate business community and the political influence of people like Jeb Bush who want these standards. So he is walking a very fine line."
The other two Common Core hearings are Wednesday in Broward County and Thursday in Tallahassee.
The comment period runs through the end of October.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or at (813) 909-4614.