The Murky Political Process for Georgia's Common Core Standards

The Murky Political Process for Georgia's Common Core Standards

As an object lesson in how difficult the political climate has become for opponents of Common Core, the laborious journey taken by Georgia State Senator William Ligon to the state’s current position on educational standards is worth delving into.

Common Core opponents are playing a rearguard action, not just in Georgia, but all across the nation because supporters of the standards stole a march on opponents as far back as 2010. Now some 44 states have the standards or some form of them. In Georgia, Sen. Ligon (R-Brunswick) has been playing from behind for several years trying to put roadblocks in front of his state’s Common Core policies with various levels of  success. His efforts are still hard for many to accept.

Senator Ligon became aware that Common Core was not an optimal education policy as early as 2012 and began to look for ways to get his state to ditch the program. He spent most of the 2012 legislative session lining up supporters and drafting proposals to do just that.

However, Common Core simply had too many supporters among school administrators, the legislators they influenced, and teachers, and his 2012 effort to slow Common Core was stalled. As it happened, though, Ligon was not just fighting his fellow legislators. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) was a powerful supporter of Common Core and made it his particular goal to force its passage.

Many local school districts were also hot to push Common Core through because some of them claimed they had already spent millions to satisfy the coming standards. They balked at thinking their efforts would be money wasted. This was yet one more hurdle Ligon faced.

Sen. Ligon even found that there was much opposition to the state returning to its old standards, the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS).

Still, despite the opposition, early in the 2013 session Ligon introduced Senate Bill 167, an effort that was originally meant to put an end to Common Core altogether.

But it became obvious that SB 167 had no better chance of passage than his efforts the previous year. So in an effort to put some sort of brakes on the run away Common Core train in the Peach State, he re-drafted SB 167 to bring at least some level of transparency and local control to the table.

As a compromise, Ligon’s second pass at 167 set up an open, transparent process for developing and revising the state’s education standards. Also, while that process was taking place, it would allow each local district the option of returning to its original GPS standards.

This new approach allowed those Districts that felt they had already set up for Common Core to continue in that direction and for those who were not yet committed to hold off, at least temporarily, while the education establishment and the legislature reviewed and tinkered with the standards.

Ligon’s re-write also initiated some more local control by setting up an Advisory Committee with membership made up of parents in the majority. The committee also included actual content experts.

The new SB 167 strongly objected to any possibility that the state could join the national standards movement and cut off any control from Washington.

Finally, the bill also eliminated the collection of student data so opposed by privacy experts all across the country.

Governor Deal howled in protest, especially at the provision to allow schools to return to GPS. Gov. Deal also objected to the provision preventing Georgia from joining the Washington-controlled, national standards movement. He began lining up his Common Core forces to defeat Ligon’s bill–or at least force him to make alterations to satisfy the Governor and his cohorts.

Sen. Ligon steadfastly refused to accept Gov. Deal’s changes to the re-write of 167.

Ultimately, through some more rigmarole in the legislature, it became obvious that Ligon’s revised bill was a non-starter. Governor Deal had made sure his Common Core support was the winning hand. The Senate told Ligon that he could get a vote only on his original bill–the one without all the fine-tuning–but it was already known that it had no chance at all.

The Senator spent more time trying to append amendments to the original in an effort to graft some of his anti-Common Core provisions onto the original, but it was all doomed to fail.

A wide range of conservatives in Georgia supported Ligon and his changes to SB 167. He was also supported by Jane Robbins of American Principles in Action and her coalition of parents and educators, and by Tanya Ditty, GA State Director of Concerned Women for America.

His efforts were not supported by Governor Nathan Deal. Even as Gov. Deal tried to make it seem like he was working with Ligon and the conservatives against Common Core, it was clear he had his ducks in a row well ahead of time and he knew that he had his forces in place in the House of Representatives to kill anything that would put a crimp in Common Core standards.

Still, as reported earlier this year by Breitbart News, many opponents of Common Core were unhappy by the whole episode.

Some felt that the re-write of SB 167 was just an attempt to re-brand Common Core, not stop it, and there was suspicion that Senator Ligon had abandoned his supporters in the effort. This faction wondered what the rush was since Common Core had not yet been fully implemented. Why push any bill, especially a flawed one, they wondered.

But those supporting Ligon insist that his bill was one of the last few hopes to put a crimp in Gov. Deal’s headlong drive for Common Core.

This report, filled with intrigue and opposition, only scratches the surface of the tumultuous situation in Georgia. It tends to show the massive and powerful forces that opponents of Common Core face, not just in Georgia, but in nearly every state in which the standards have been accepted.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at