In a press release issued late Thursday afternoon, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the following in response to skepticism on the part of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) about the Common Core national standards push:

The idea that the Common Core standards are nationally-imposed is a conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy. The Common Core academic standards were both developed and adopted by the states, and they have widespread bipartisan support.

The secretary’s defensive statement is telling: If the Common Core standards are truly state-led, it is curious that the Department of Education would be weighing in on an issue related to the education standards South Carolina will use. That Duncan has chosen to issue a public statement on South Carolina’s uneasiness about the Common Core push is an indication of just how heavily involved the federal government is with the effort, and the amount of control it stands to gain once states surrender standard-setting authority to Washington.

And it’s not a conspiracy theory—as Duncan claims—if a confluence of evidence exists to support charges that these are national standards.

The first indication of Washington’s deep involvement came with Race to the Top (RTT) in early 2009. RTT invited states to compete for $4.35 billion in a difficult budgetary climate and doled out grants to states that agreed to the Administration’s policy proposals. Notably, applications for RTT funding required states to describe how they would transform their standards and assessments to “college and career-ready” standards that were common to a significant number of states.

By June 1, 2010, applicants had to submit “evidence of having adopted common standards.” While there was no explicit mention of the Common Core State Standards, the Common Core standards were the only standards that met the department’s criteria for commonality at the time and remain so today.

In February 2010, Secretary Duncan told a group of governors that access to the nearly $15 billion in Title I funding for low-income school districts could be tied to the adoption of common standards under the Administration’s blueprint to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And most recently, the Obama Administration began offering No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers to states that agreed to adopt standards in math and English language arts that are “common to a significant number of states” or have been “certified by a state network of institutions of higher education.”

Race to the Top, the Administration’s blueprint to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Title I access, and NCLB waivers have left little doubt that the federal government has become heavily invested in the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

A recent report from the Pioneer Institute found that the Administration’s support of the Common Core national standards push violates three federal laws: No Child Left Behind, the Department of Education Organization Act, and the General Education Provisions Act. Authors Bob Eitel and Kent Talbert (former deputy general counsel and general counsel at the Department of Education) conclude:

Left unchallenged by Congress, these standards and assessments will ultimately direct the course of elementary and secondary study in most states across the nation, running the risk that states will become little more than administrative agents for a nationalized K-12 program of instruction…The Department has simply paid others to do that which it is forbidden to do.

Pioneer has also just released a report showing that—to make matters worse—taxpayers in states that have agreed to adopt Common Core national standards will be on the hook for nearly $16 billion in new spending, cumulatively, in order to align state and local education systems to the new standards over the next seven years.

Federal involvement in the Common Core national standards push is not some figment of the imagination. Billions in federal funding, strings-attached NCLB waivers, and significant rhetorical support clearly point to a nationalization of the content taught in local schools.

South Carolina—and states across the country—are right to have pause about this latest federal overreach. And they shouldn’t be ridiculed by a federal agency that has already done plenty to centralize education spending and authority.