Plunkett: SB 2161 Perpetuates Statism of Common Core

Gov. Bryant should exercise his veto power and wipe the slate clean.

By Keith Plunkett | UCF Staff

PlunkettThe argument from the protectors of the bureaucracy who are against Gov. Phil Bryant using his veto authority to do away with SB 2161 has moved from blind allegiance (But, look so many legislators voted for it. It must be good, right?); to political apology (Sorry, we did the best we could do. We’ll get ‘em next time); to personal attacks (The opposition to SB 2161 is nothing other than some looking for a political issue to champion); to half-hearted attempts to misrepresent the facts completely (But the bill does what the governor said he wanted to do in a speech).

The fact that the argument for SB 2161 and against a veto keeps changing should be enough to raise a red flag. This bill is crap, and those attempting to protect politicians in this election cycle from the wrath of the voters know it. The supporters of the status quo can’t settle on an argument for too long lest it be shown for what it truly is: an empty excuse to try and get past this as soon as possible.

SB 2161 and Common Core has now been referred to as a “wedge issue” from some corners. You know when you hear the term “wedge issue” you’re hearing political speak for “we don’t really want to talk about this anymore.”

Meanwhile, the argument from those who have fought for years against Common Core hasn’t wavered. In the consultant driven world of politics this is often referred to as “staying on message”. But, it also helps that it is the truth based on facts.

Truth based on facts. Yes, I know. That’s not something statists like to hear. But, I’m sorry, I won’t be obliging the attempts to change the discussion to the next flavor of the hour of why SB 2161 is a peach of a bill. It’s not.

Once you get beyond the obvious political land mines laid out to trip up the public–power politicians=good, public asking too many questions=bad, now move on, nothing else to discuss–the arguments of opponents to a veto settle on three basic points, all of which are easily dismissed and dismantled by looking at facts.

  • False Claim #1: SB 2161 removes any participation by Mississippi in the assessment tool for Common Core, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. 

Wrong. SB 2161 offers language that is a half-hearted feign for show. The language reads:

“Beginning with the 2015-2016 school year, the State Dept. of Education shall not require school districts to administer the multistate Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test or any other consortia developed test.”

Did you catch that? “Shall not require”?

That doesn’t end the PARCC assessment. It sends it underground behind a wall of bureaucracy where people can’t see the behind the scenes arm-twisting by the Mississippi Dept. of Education and state Superintendent Carey Wright, who incidentally was at one point a PARCC board member and still is a huge supporter of Common Core.

Furthermore–and here’s where it gets tricky–the language about PARCC in SB 2161 is placed in the code section of law as it relates to graduation, not in the section related to school accountability. That leaves open the likelihood that dollars associated with merit pay and accountability measures in school districts can still be attached to a core-aligned assessment.

Give the bureaucrats credit. They know how to hide their schemes.

  • False Claim #2: SB 2161 replaces or ends Common Core standards in Mississippi.

Wrong. SB 2161 creates another layer of bureaucracy by creating a commission to review the standards and make recommendations to the Dept. of Education, of which there is no requirement that MDE even listen. Furthermore, this commission will be made up of political appointments. Wonder whose best interest they will be looking out for?

Already, the group Mississippi First has said they will be offering suggestions to the Governor and Lt. Governor of who they should appoint. This is the same group that has pushed for liberal sex education in schools, and who fought against religious groups being allowed to participate in charter school development.

Mississippi First received funding from the Gates Foundation in the amount of $98,223 in 2013.  The Gates Foundation is the same group that has spent more than the GDP of most small countries to promote Common Core.

The commission created by SB 2161 also won’t allow retired teachers to participate, doing away with a key group of knowledgeable people that, it just so happens, have largely been vocal opponents of Common Core.

Statists love to use legalese to stack the deck in their favor, and that is what SB 2161 does. It leaves open the possibility of a commission stacked with supporters of Common Core, that then are empowered to look at more than math and language standards. They are empowered to review ALL standards, including science standards that could liberalize sex education in Mississippi schools. Bananas and condoms in the classroom, anyone?

No thanks.

  • False Claim #3: SB 2161 prohibits the collection of private data on students or their families.

Wrong again.  One has to read the language of the bill and take a look at earlier versions. Initially the prohibition was on data “collected, tracked, housed, reported or shared”. That was changed in later versions of the bill to remove everything but the term “shared with the federal government without parental consent”.

The language in the section addressing private data goes on to read:

“No personally identifiable student data shall be collected for the purpose of development of commercial products or services without parental consent. No psychological or socio-emotional surveys shall be administered to students or completed by school personnel regarding a particular student without parental consent.”

So, on opening day of school, parents are handed a stack of papers and asked to sign. How many will give their “parental consent” without knowing exactly what this means? Is this an example of elected representatives protecting the privacy rights of people, or politicians protecting statism and bureaucracy?

Another reason to worry about data mining is through computerized testing, attendance records, test scores, grades, tardiness and a whole host of other means that separate by race and ethnicity, socio economic background and more. This is then fed into the “statewide longitudinal data system”.

Student data is analyzed by keeping track of nearly every key stroke on a computer. One educational technology software company professional says that through data-mining in education “we literally know everything about what you know and how you learn best, everything.” He calls education “the world’s most data mineable industry by far” and brags that the data is 5-times over what giants like Google can accomplish.

These collection points are built in to the new nationalized system created by the federal government by handing more than $600 million to states over the past ten years. This kind of behemoth isn’t easily changed by a simple throwaway line in a code section of Mississippi law.

Put simply, SB 2161 is at best an attempt to use a coffee cup to capture the force of the Mississippi River. It’s not going to happen.

As Senator Michael Watson has said, next year the legislators will show up and claim they already dealt with Common Core and their will be no need to address it again.

SB 2161 is about putting off the hard work of actually addressing the problem.

If Governor Bryant is as serious about getting rid of Common Core as most Mississippians are, if he truly believes as he said nearly a year ago that “Common Core is a failed program” and that Mississippi needs to “wipe the chalkboard clean” then he should veto SB 2161 and instruct the Mississippi Legislature to get tough and stop playing politics with parental rights, student privacy and education.

The overwhelming majority of Mississippians want out of Common Core. Mississippi’s elected officials should understand the seriousness of it enough to do it, do it now and do it right.

Keith Plunkett is the Policy and Communications Director for the United Conservatives Fund. He has worked on communications and policy issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, government agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by email at or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett



  1. Keith makes some valid points. Public education is a “trust” that the citizens place upon the state to protect and insure the fundamental right of every school age child to receive a quality education that will prepare them for the challenges ahead in life, as well as open up their minds to the infinite possibilities that learning and knowledge have to offer. If the Governor believes that the current SB 2161 fails to accomplish/maintain this trust, then he should veto it. Once he signs the bill and it becomes law, it will be even more difficult to accomplish his goals in public education.

  2. William Smith says:

    1, Keith frames the veto issue as the protectors of the bureaucracy being against the Governor’s using his veto power as though the presumption is that the Governor would normally use his veto power in a case like this. Rather with a bill that received such overwhelming support in both Houses the presumption would be against the Governor’s vetoing the bill. What Keith really wants is for the Governor to veto a bill which only 3 Republican Senators voted against, What the UCF and Senators McDaniel and Sojourner have been doing is trying to pressure the Governor to do what they were unable to do in a deliberative body by persuading their fellow Republicans.

    2. The argument against SB 2161 has been confusing to me. We have been told that what is wanted is to get rid of federal intrusion and to secure state and local control. State and local control is established by SB 2161. Then we are told that we cannot trust the State Superintendent and State Department of Education or the State Board and that we need to assure local control. But local control can’t be trusted either. What Keith and the UCF and the Senators really want us for the Legislature (assuming they can attain next year what they could not this year) to tell local districts and their Boards what they may and may not do. Notice what he writes: “Beginning with the 2015-2016 school year, the State Dept. of Education shall not require school districts to administer the multistate Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test or any other consortia developed test. Did you catch that? ‘Shall not require’?” It’s not enough that the State Department of Education may not require. Keith and UCF do not want local boards to have the freedom to chose what they want to do locally.

    3, What we still await from Keith and UCF is a clear statement of what skills and knowledge MS school children need and how to give it to them. MS education problems did not come with Common Core – they much predate it – and they will not be resolved by getting rid of it. How make things better?

    What us needed is less demagoguery and more goodwilled and rational discussion of what has long been the intractable problem of MS public education.

    • Mr. Smith,

      You and I have had this discussion in other mediums. I find it very telling that you continue to promote a narrative of which I have corrected before. It is especially unfortunate that you would continue to comment about what I “really want” when I have told you exactly what my concerns and those of my fellow UCF members an committee are. That you continue to try to make this solely an issue of personality politics regarding Senators Sojourner, McDaniel and Watson instead of addressing the facts as they have been presented shows a lack of seriousness on your part.

      So let’s address these again.

      1. To presume the Governor would not use his veto power on a bill that he fundamentally disagrees with is to say he should simply go along with the politics. Already the Governors office is a constitutionally weak position. The veto is the only real legal means he has to make a statement of opposition. If the Legislature wishes to override that veto, that is their prerogative.

      2. This is more than an issue of politics. All of the major groups that oppose Common Core in Mississippi have asked the Governor to veto this bill. These groups are the parents and teachers in the communities across the state, not the politicians.

      3. The issue of allowing PARCC in the local school districts is about money, control and a backdoor way of allowing core-aligned testing, which of course leads to core-aligned curriculum. SB 2161 is being championed as a bill to “end Common Core.” It does not.

      4. The skills and knowledge Mississippi students need are to be free-thinking adults, not cogs in a wheel. Examples of good standards abound across the country that are much more rigorous than Common Core. Mississippi could and should use these to increase the level of education here in Mississippi. But, it should be up to the parents and teachers to decide, not forced from above .

      Bottom line: Common Core is an untested, unproven experiment that is being foisted on the country by a network of shadow groups and non-profits with the help of the federal government through offering grant money. If another state wishes to implement Common Core and can make it work, then maybe Mississippi can look at that someday and say “Yes, they made it work. Here’s how WE can make it work.” Until such time, I don’t wish to have my children subjected to it until such time someone shows me proof of it’s success.

      My kids are not offered up for use in a government experiment.

      • William Smith says:

        Mr. Plunkett,

        First, I am not a proponent of Common Core. What I am a for is a better education for ALL of MS’s children, There are a lot of things that work against this happening. MS, perhaps more than any other state, has suffered from the history of slavery, invasion, reconstruction, segregation, black separatism, academies, racism, agragrian ecomomy, etc, A concentration of these issues can be seen by any visit to Jackson public schools or the Delta. These realities have to be faced and people have to work together to come up with solutions that result in a better education. Let me ask a concrete question: what are you willing to do for the black children of MS to help them to be educated?

        Re Common Core, my daughter-in-law is a graduate of a conservative Christian academy in AL and of a conservative Christian College in TN. She herself is an evangelical and conservative Christian. She also is an elementary public school teacher in AR who has repeatedly been commended for her effectiveness in the classroom. In fact her effectiveness has been “rewarded” by her being given children who are the hardest to work with in her classroom. When Common Core was brought up in a conversation she pointed out that much of what has been said about it is incaccurate and that it was intended to provide for different strategies for different students according to the ways they learn. This had the effect of giving me pause about the blanket condemnations of Common Core.

        I don’t think you have “corrected” a narrative I continue to pusue. I think we have different narratives. It might help for us both to acknowledge that.

        Should the Governor veto the bill? I don’t know. What I hate is to see him give in to the pressure that has been mounted. I tend to think that he should sign the bill which was passed overwhelmingly by both Houses of the Legislature and which I think goes a long way toward addressing many of the concerns about Common Core. It does not do everything you wish, but it does a good bit. Sometimes you have to take yes for an answer.

        I think it is obvious beyond doubt that the bill and the potential veto have become substantially, though by no means exclusively, matters of personality politics involving the Lt. Gov. and the majority of the state Senate on the one hand and Senators McDaniel and Sojourner and groups like UCF on the other. The bill and the potential veto are part of the ongoing fight about last year’s Senate election. In other words, it is a further attempt to drive a wedge between conservatives. In MS it is beyond doubt that every Republican is a conservative, but the McDaniel campaign continues to try to claim there are “true” conservatives and “the establishment” who need to be at war with one another. I think all this is unfortunate and is distracting to MS’s addressing its real problems.

        Now, since yiou are a parent and strongly interested in public education, and since, and I agree with this, there are examples of good standards, why don’t you pick one or two that you think will work in MS and introduce us to them as viable alternatives? I for one would have a great interest.

        I take no back seat to you in commitment to one’s children. My wife and I raised five boys, and we were thoroughly committed to what went on with them educationally and never hestiated to speak our minds. (I have been a Board member in two different private schools and a Board President in one of them.) We also wanted our sons to be able to think for themselves. We wanted them to be capable of logical and rational thought.

        Nor do I defer to you as a true conservative Republican. I have been a Republican all my life. I was involved in the organization of the party in Newton County in the 70s. I supported Goldwater when I was in high school. Bill Buckely, Barry Golwater, Ronald Reagan are among my politcal heroes. One thing I think is unfortunate in the current climate in MS is that these men and othes such as Kirk and Taft have been misrepresented as though they are the same views as Sen. McDaniel and UCF and as though they did not differ from one another while not seeking to “de-conservatize” one another. For instance the debate that Buckley and Reagan had over the Panama Canal Treaty is great example of convictional and spirited debate which did not result in any estrangement between them. This kind of thing is what is being lost in MS now.

        I think its fine to oppose Common Core. What I do not think is fine is dividing the Republican Party and conservatives. Have a debate. State your oppostions and reasons strongly. But don’t attack fellow consevatives.

      • I don’t know how you can summarize this article as anything other that stating the opposition and reasons strongly.

        There are false claims being made. I counter those arguments in this article.

        As to dividing Republicans, that is a claim that doesn’t hold water. My articles may point out from time to time why I believe differently than others on a policy issue. They also may point out that there are Republicans that believe differently than me. But, to construe that as a personal attack on a Republican ignores the analysis of the policy.

        Truth matters. The Lt. Governor has said that this bill “ends Common Core.” That is very clearly a false statement. That is not a personal attack on him just for the sake of division. It is a fact.

        Hiding from the truth because it may negatively impact a fellow Republican or conservative is what has gotten the GOP in the shape it is in today. Until we start speaking strongly and truthfully we will continue to be marginalized.

      • William Smith says:

        Keith, I guess we just see things differently. I will say that I think that in your response you ignored most of the subsatnce of what I said in my most recent response to you.

        I am not sure at all what you mean by “GOP (being) in the shape it is in.” In MS the GOP controls every state office save Attorney General, both houses of the Legisltature, both US Senate seats, and 3 of 4 House seats. That’s pretty good shape so far as I can see. Nationally the GOP controls the Senate and the House and is much more conservative than it was in the Reagan era whether you are looking at the Senate, the House, or the Presidential candidates. Again pretty good shape in my view -which a a much longer view than yours.

        You do attack your own Party – not only by calling the Lt. Gov. a liar which he is not but by setting a small minority in the Legislature against a strong majority.The attacks are not just principial but personal, as they have constantly been made by UCF since it began and by Sen. McDaniel since he lost the Senate race.

        I think you need to be straightforward and acknowledge that you do want to divide the Party. What is being set up is a fight to the death. You want control. Either you and UCF win or what you inaccurately call the establishment GOP will win. I don’t think you can or will but in the meantime a lot of cuts are going to be made and possiblly a lot of blood spilled. That is one reason I would have preferred for Sen. McDaniel to challenge Tate Reeives this year. It would have been mano a mano fight and would have had the chance of settling things rather than continuing this blood feud.

        I know you like your article and that you think it pretty well clears the field. I understand that. I feel the same way about the things I write for my Blog. But, frankly I find it to be argument by assertion which is not the same thing as argument by facts and reason.

        Good people built the Party in MS and worked patiently and persistently to gain for it status it now enjoys. I hate to see people not appreciate that and in fact work to tear it down.

        No one is going to persuade the 3 maverick Senators, or you, or the UCF to stop attacking and to support the Party, but it’s a sad thing to watch.

    • I am not working to tear down anything. I am working to build something up, namely the truth. When the Lt. Gov. says SB 2161 “ends Common Core”, that is not true, regardless of who supported it or voted for it. The facts speak for themselves despite your insistence on having a discussion that ignores them.

      And, anyone who looks at the Republican Party leadership today as being anywhere near its principally conservative base has already discredited their argument in my opinion.

      You find what you want to find, sir. And you obviously ignore anything that doesn’t support your preconceived notions.

      I understand the game your playing. I’ve seen it for many many years. Attempting to point in a different direction and ignore the facts presented may make you feel convinced of your Machiavellian superiority, but it doesn’t change reality.

      Bottom line. SB 2161 doesn’t end Common Core. That fact has not been disputed by anyone save one person: Lt. Governor Tate Reeves . . . and now you, of course, without a shred of evidence from either of you to prove otherwise.

      • William Smith says:

        Keith, I am not playing any games. I am a seeker after truth as well. It’s ironic that you accuse me of ignoring anything that does not fit my preconceived notions, because that is exactly what I have concluded about UCF, Senators McDaniel and Sojourner, and, I guess, you. It seems to me you ignore the history of the Republican Party in MS and its current strength in the state, the actual convictions and governance of Reagan, and the nature of conservatism. You have an ideology into which you try to shoe horn history and reality. It seems to me that no one more than the group around Senator McDaniel is in the business of finding what they want. I am surely not smart or wily enough to be Machievellian. I am a straight ahead sort of guy. Once again here, and even more so than earlier, you engage in argument by assertion rather than facts and logic. I would suggest that as to where the base of the Party is in MS we both watch the elections that will take place later this year. They may give an indication of where the Party is and where it is going. My guess is that things are going to settle down, that the state Senate as it will be organized by the Lt. Gov. next January will work more smoothly and with less contentiousness, and that the Party will gain seats in the Legislature and be even stronger. I also think that is likely that the election in the First District will tell the story of Republicans electing a mainstream candidate who will work well with our two Republican congressmen and our two senators.

  3. What is factually incorrect with Mr. Plunkett’s article? Is the argument that his positions/facts are wrong because the bill passed?

  4. William Smith says:

    The problem is that the whole piece is argumentation supported not by objective facts but by assertions presented as though they were facts. No, this has nothing to do with the passing of the bill except that it is rather unusual for a governor to veto a bill that passes by as strong a vote as this one did.

  5. MichaelW says:

    This bill seems to be nothing more than being passed to satisfy the voters that something is being done by their elected officials so that the bureaucrats can tell the people in their districts that something is being done to address their concerns. This seems like a smoke screen to me with Bureaucrats and State Educators both reeping the benefits of being able to satisfy everyones concerns about common core when in essence it was a do nothing bill that changed nothing or did nothing. The only thing that I can see that it did was create another do nothing board and expand government even more. It is unknown to me if we are going to have to pay this do nothing board. If true as stated in the article, then I become very concerned that no retired teachers would be appointed to this board. I would think that you would want teachers very much involved in any standards that are proposed. But knowing the bureaucrats we will probably wind up with family, cronies, politicians, and so called business associates.

    • The think that the Governor has raised some of the same concerns as Michael W. If so, no one will fault him for vetoing it. If anything, Phil should be applauded, and make a plan for submitting a new and improved bill in 2016.

  6. I say again, public education is a “trust” that the citizens place upon the state to protect and insure the fundamental right of every school age child to receive a quality education that will prepare them for the challenges ahead in life, as well as to open up their minds to the infinite possibilities that learning and knowledge have to offer. If the Governor believes that the current SB 2161 fails to accomplish/maintain this trust, then he absolutely should veto it, regardless of what the legislatI’ve vote happened to be.

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