Senate Committee Approves Common Core Opt-Out Bill

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.(WHNT)-Common Core opponents moved closer to a major goal Wednesday after a Senate committee approved a bill that would allow Alabama school systems to opt-out of the controversial program, but the legislation still appears to face an uphill battle.

The Alabama Senate Education Committee cleared SB 443 by a vote of 4-2, the latest chapter in an ongoing battle that’s ratcheted up over the last few weeks. The vote fell along party lines, with Republicans giving the bill a green light while Democrats said no. A floor vote by the entire Senate is the next step, but rumors are already swirling that a filibuster by Common Core supporters could grind the bill to a halt.

“I think we’re heading in the wrong direction with Common Core, it’s untested, it smacks of federal encroachment,” said Sen. Shadrack McGill (R-Scottsboro), one of the four committee members who approved the bill. “As people become more and more educated about the problems with Common Core then it becomes more and more of an issue…Those drafting the curriculum were not educators in the first place.”

Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) is the other north Alabama member on the Senate Education Committee. Holtzclaw was absent from Wednesday’s vote and could not be reached for comment.

Sen. McGill and other opt-out supporters said individual school systems should have the final say in what gets taught at the local level, potentially overriding Common Core math and English standards that were previously adopted by the Alabama Board of Education and implemented by schools. But the fight appears to be far from over, with Senate President Del Marsh warning that the bill likely does not have enough support to break an inevitable filibuster.

Despite the recent backlash, support for Common Core among north Alabama’s education establishment remains strong. Huntsville School Board Member Topper Birney called the opt-out provision a foolish experiment.

“If we had the highest education system in the country that would be one thing, but Alabama doesn’t,” said Birney. “We need help. This to me is a big help, and I really think the legislature is making a big mistake in even thinking of this.”

Members of Alabama’s business community also voiced concerns over the opt-out bill, saying it could push away employers while also hurting job prospects for graduates.

“Alabama needs standards that are high and rigorous,” said Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce Spokesman Mike Ward. “It affects our ability to recruit employers. Employers who have the ability to locate anywhere they like choose to go to places where they can count on a solid education system for their employees and their employees’ children…I think that the Alabama standards that have been put in place are good.”

Common Core opponents say the standards create an inflexible one-size-fits-all approach that discounts different learning styles and stifles classroom innovation by teachers (http://whnt.com/2014/03/06/common-core-controversy-parents-opt-for-homeschooling-route/).

The Business Council of Alabama and several area Chambers of Commerce have all come out against the opt-out bill.