Friday, August 17, 2018
Politics

Common Core creates political balancing act for Gov. Rick Scott

TALLAHASSEE — It seemed like the commotion over Common Core had died down in Florida.

But a dustup last month in the Lee County school system, the state's ninth-largest district with 85,000 students, reignited the debate over the controversial education benchmarks — and put the issue front and center in the governor's race.

Observers say it could present a challenge for Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

To win on Nov. 4, Scott must rally an active and vocal part of his base: tea party members who want to eviscerate the new standards. But he's also vying for votes from moderate Republicans who support the Common Core standards. And he's keenly aware that former Gov. Jeb Bush has been a powerful driving force behind the standards' success.

Democratic candidate Charlie Crist has embraced the Common Core but is less likely to face pushback for his position. Although some Democrats believe the benchmarks will stifle creativity in the classroom, most support the concept.

"Gov. Scott is straddling this issue as best he can," said University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith, adding that Common Core could make a difference in a close race.

The latest Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/UF Bob Graham Center poll showed Scott leading Crist, 41 percent to 36 percent. Other polls show a far tighter contest.

Little dissent

The Common Core State Standards were developed by the bipartisan National Governors Association, and have been adopted in 43 states and the District of Columbia. They outline what students should know at every grade level.

There was little dissent in 2010 when Florida approved the benchmarks. But last year, conservative parents and tea party groups began raising concerns about federal intrusion into public education, even though the federal government was not involved in the development of the standards.

The opposition in Florida grew so strong that Scott ordered the state to pull out of a consortium of states developing Common Core tests. He also called for a series of public hearings that prompted state education officials to tweak the benchmarks and rename them the Florida Standards.

Critics derided the changes as cosmetic. (The Common Core State Standards Initiative website continues to list Florida as a state that has adopted the standards.) But they backed off of their attacks on Scott in the spring and early summer.

Opinion shifts

In other states, opposition has been building in a public way.

Oklahoma and Indiana repealed the Common Core standards this year. Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal in Louisiana has said he wants to jettison the standards, and filed a lawsuit against the federal government for coercing states to adopt them.

Public opinion has also been shifting against Common Core.

A Gallup Poll released Aug. 20 found that 59 percent of Americans oppose the use of Common Core standards. Of the Republicans surveyed, 76 percent said they objected to the new benchmarks.

Scott's campaign has taken note.

In recent weeks, Scott's top education adviser, Kim MacDougal, who is on leave to work with the campaign, has met with Common Core opponents to address their lingering concerns. What's more, Scott called for a review of the standards as part of a larger education plan that boosts per-student spending to a record high of $7,176 and increases spending on classroom technology.

The issue boiled over in Lee County in late August, when Common Core critics persuaded the School Board to approve a moratorium on the tests associated with the standards. The board reversed its decision last week, citing concerns that the district would lose its state funding. But opponents took advantage of the opportunity to increase the pressure on Scott.

During a public meeting, Lee County School Board Chairman Thomas Scott (no relation to the governor) said Florida needed a leader "who had enough courage" to reject the standards.

When asked his position on the benchmarks Thursday, Scott repeated talking points that he and others were "tired of federal government overreach."

"What Florida wants to do is we have our own standards," Scott said. "We've told the federal government they're not going to dictate how we run our education system. And that's what we're going to continue to do."

Differing views

For some tea party supporters, that doesn't go far enough.

Randy Osborne, a member of the Florida Eagle Forum and the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, said he and others are pressing Scott to take action before the election.

"This issue could really hurt him," Osborne said. "If he can't get his base out, he can't win."

But Sean Foreman, an associate professor of political science at Barry University, said it would not make sense for Scott to bash the standards.

"It would do him more harm than good electorally because people who are opposed to Common Core are still going to vote for him over Charlie Crist," Foreman said.

Luz Gonzalez, a Republican activist from Miami-Dade who opposes the standards, said she doubts many Republicans would skip Election Day or cast their votes for another candidate.

"I think we have a little more integrity than to vote only on this issue," she said.

Miami Herald staff writers Marc Caputo and Christina Veiga contributed to this report. Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected]erald.com.

Comments

Two Seminole council members face challengers

SEMINOLE — Six candidates have filed to run for two open seats on the City Council.Incumbents Chris Burke, first elected in 2012, and Trish Springer, elected in 2015, face challenges from former council member Dan Hester, who served from 2005 to 2010...
Published: 08/16/18
In Republican race for Pinellas County Commission seat, Rep. Kathleen Peters outpacing field

In Republican race for Pinellas County Commission seat, Rep. Kathleen Peters outpacing field

As the Aug. 28 primary election approaches, three Republicans are battling to represent a Pinellas County Commission district that hasn’t witnessed a competitive contest for more than 15 years.State Reps. Larry Ahern of Seminole and Kathleen Peters o...
Published: 08/16/18
Romano: Con artist or Florida politician? You decide

Romano: Con artist or Florida politician? You decide

Decorum matters, and so the attorney’s language was appropriately measured.In seeking to have a constitutional amendment thrown off the ballot, a motion filed in Leon County used words such as "misleading’’ and "ambiguity’’ and "wordsmithing.’’That’s...
Published: 08/16/18
Veteran Hernando politicians take oversized contributions, run afoul of campaign finance laws

Veteran Hernando politicians take oversized contributions, run afoul of campaign finance laws

BROOKSVILLE — With primary Election Day at the doorstep, two Republican candidates vying for seats on the Hernando County Commission found themselves in uncomfortable spots over potential filings with the Florida Commission on Ethics.And a third Repu...
Published: 08/15/18
Q&A: A Watergate trickster talks dirty politics, then and now

Q&A: A Watergate trickster talks dirty politics, then and now

CLEARWATERNearly half a century ago, Martin Kelly made the mistake of his life.He was a senior at the University of Miami when he decided to take part in what would become one of the most infamous political scandals in U.S. history: Watergate. He was...
Published: 08/15/18

Pasco Political Notebook for Aug. 17

Republican Club hosts candidate forum at meetingThe West Pasco Republican Club will host an "Election Extravaganza" candidate forum at its meeting Aug. 21 at Heritage Springs Country Club, 11345 Robert Trent Jones Parkway, Trinity. A social time will...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/15/18
Early voting in Pasco: Here’s what to remember when you head to the polls

Early voting in Pasco: Here’s what to remember when you head to the polls

Early voting Pasco County begins Saturday and runs through Aug. 25, with 11 locations across the county for voters.Polls are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 20-24, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug...
Published: 08/13/18
Largo election cancelled as incumbents stay with no opposition

Largo election cancelled as incumbents stay with no opposition

LARGO — There will be no suspense in the city when elections arrive Nov. 6. In fact, there will be no election at all, because all four city commissioners whose seats were up were re-elected by default when no one came forward by the end of the candi...
Published: 08/13/18
Florida candidate tried to prove she’s a college graduate. The school says her diploma is fake.

Florida candidate tried to prove she’s a college graduate. The school says her diploma is fake.

The political kerfuffle around Melissa Howard began when a news site reported that the Florida state House hopeful is not a college graduate, as she claims to be. To prove the story wrong, Howard, R, reportedly flew to her proclaimed alma mater, Ohio...
Published: 08/12/18
Romano: Two years later, politicians still ignoring Florida voters on medical marijuana

Romano: Two years later, politicians still ignoring Florida voters on medical marijuana

The war is over, except no one in Tallahassee has bothered to read the news.And so Florida continues its daft fight against medical marijuana. All of which means patients are being left behind, voters are getting ignored, and lawyers are buying fanci...
Published: 08/11/18