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Business leaders rally against bills to roll back, forbid Common Core in Arizona

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PHOENIX – Several GOP bills to roll back or forbid Arizona’s switch to the Common Core State Standards would harm efforts to create a more competitive workforce, business leaders said Thursday.

“We believe that it would be wrong to deny Arizona students the education they need to succeed in the 21st century,” Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said at a news conference outside the Capitol.

Four of the bills won party-line endorsements Thursday from the Senate Education Committee. They included SB 1310, authored by Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, which would prohibit the state from implementing any Common Core standards.

The other bills were:

• SB 1388, authored by Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, which would allow school districts and charter school governing boards to establish their own assessments of student performance;

• SB 1395, authored by Sen. Judy Burges, R-Sun City West, which would allow school districts and charter school governing boards to opt out of competency requirements; and

• SB 1396, authored by Sen. David Farnsworth, R- Mesa, which would require school districts and charter school governing boards to adopt the minimum standard established by the Arizona State Board of Education.

Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, the committee’s chairwoman, said she believes that assessment standards should be controlled locally because educational needs vary among states.

“The state of Arizona is very uniquely different from the state next door to us, and so when we have this sort of universal code it is a little bit scary, quite frankly,” she said.

Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, who voted against the bills, questioned the level of accountability and competency school districts and charter schools would have.

“I’m just not sure if the districts and the charters could really have that expertise that moving forward, to be able to develop these standards,” she said.

At the news conference, Todd Sanders, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, said businesses represented by his organization have trouble finding qualified workers.

“We are going to need a world-class educational system to compete regionally and globally,” he said.

Thomas Franz, president and CEO of Greater Phoenix Leadership, said he saw firsthand during his time as an executive with Intel Corp. how economic growth depends on a good education system. The standards Arizona has developed to implement Common Core requirements support that, he said.

“The Arizona College and Career Ready Standards are more rigorous than Arizona’s old standards, and the notion that they restrict or limit students’ learning is a willful misreading of them,” Franz said.

Hamer said his organization intends to make sure the bills don’t reach the governor’s office.

“We believe for Arizona to be successful we need to have the highest possible education standards,” he said.