- Associated Press - Thursday, May 5, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Republican Gov. Gary Herbert spent years defending Utah’s adoption of Common Core education standards but reversed course this week, calling for a repeal as he faces a tough re-election fight for his party’s nomination.

Herbert faces a June 28 primary election against Overstock.com executive Jonathan Johnson, who has pummeled the governor for his past support of the education benchmarks.

In a letter Wednesday night to the State Board of Education, Herbert said that he believes there is misinformation about Common Core but he shares a number of concerns that opponents of the standards have voiced.

“It has become clear to me that the conflict, discord and divisiveness associated with these standards are not helping our students,” the letter states.

The governor didn’t specify his concerns about Common Core standards but said he wants to instead adopt new, Utah-specific standards and ensure the federal government is kept out of the state’s education decisions.

“I think this is purely a move that the governor is making because of the re-election campaign,” University of Utah Matthew Burbank political science professor said.

Common Core was developed in 2009 by a bipartisan group of governors and state school officials aiming to replace a patchwork of education standards around the country.

In 2010, while Herbert was governor, Utah became one of 45 states that eventually adopted the standards. As part of a conservative backlash, three states later withdrew as President Barack Obama’s administration promoted the standards and handed out grant money that incentivized states to adopt higher academic standards.

Critics of the standards say they’re an inappropriate federal overreach where states have lost control and are coerced into adopting Common Core to receive federal funds.

Herbert has defended the academic standards in the past, saying they worked well and Utah was getting good results.

Herbert’s re-election bid suffered a setback last month when he failed to secure the Republican Party’s nomination at the state GOP convention. Instead, several thousand core party members favored Johnson, who hammered the governor over Common Core.

“Now he’s panicked and suddenly flip-flopped,” Johnson said Thursday.

Johnson said parents concerned about Common Core have raised the issue at every campaign meeting he’s held.

“I think he’s doing and saying anything he can to stay in office for a third term,” he said of Herbert’s letter.

The governor’s office did not respond to questions about the letter and timing of the announcement but his campaign manager Marty Carpenter said in an email that the action was taken now because of a federal law passed in December that limits Washington’s ability to push states to adopt such standards.

Burbank, the political science professor, said the Common Core repeal may not have much influence with about 600,000 Republicans who will vote in the June primary because that broader group tends to be less conservative than the smaller base who weighed in at the April GOP convention.

It’s also unclear if Utah’s education board will heed the governor’s plea and replace the standards.

Board chair David Crandall declined to speculate Thursday on whether board members would repeal Common Core but said it may be discussed at June meetings. Crandall said it would take at least a year to come up with new standards and allow the public to weigh in before replacing Common Core.

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Associated Press writer Hallie Golden contributed to this report.

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