A disturbing aspect of the debate over the Common Core Standards, a curriculum developed by state governments and implemented in 44 states, is that the state’s routine attacks on the federal government have spread. Alabama now seems to resent its association with the other states of the union.
The Alabama Legislature, with considerable support from the people, has been waging a legislative war against the federal government since at least 2010.Many of the laws the Legislature has passed since then, and the showcase bills this session, violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Federal law trumps state law, a fact some Alabamians resent. Even knowing the passage of unconstitutional laws inevitably results in futile and expensive litigation, some Alabamians support state laws that purport to reject federal authority.
There are compelling arguments that federal power has exceeded the scope envisioned by the Founding Fathers, largely because of the Commerce Cause. Interstate commerce, an anomaly when the Constitutional Convention of 1787 took place, now is pervasive.
Like the state Legislature, Congress constantly tries to maximize its power. The Constitution, of course, provides mechanisms to scale back federal involvement in the states. Unilateral state action — the method Alabama has pursued with enthusiasm — is not one of those options.
The Common Core curriculum, adopted by the state’s elected Board of Education in 2010, is not a creature of the federal government. It originated with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It is a voluntary and state-led effort to implement the best standards developed in 50 state “laboratories.” It provides uniformity, so a student transferring from one state to another can expect consistency.
The primary argument legislators make in seeking to overrule the state Board of Education involves claims of federal overreach. Common Core, though, is not a federal program. Common Core would have been entirely appropriate even before the Supremacy Clause made its debut in 1787, because it involves voluntary cooperation among the states.
Some legislators seek to argue the merits of the course of study, but their arguments are inherently weak. An elected Board of Education, with input from superintendents, teachers and other experts, studied Common Core carefully before adopting it. Taxpayers already have paid for most of the transition costs.
As board member Mary Scott Hunter — a frequent critic of federal overreach — told legislators at a committee meeting Wednesday, “I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, and I don’t want you to tell me how to do mine.”
Many Alabamians have a philosophical problem with expansive federal power. The hostility toward Common Core, however, suggests the frustration with the federal government has expanded into resentment of our status as one of the United States of America.
We are Alabamians, but we also are Americans. Healthy disputes over federal authority need not undermine our national pride.