Something interesting happened in Indiana on Thursday. In a big win for Gov. Mike Pence, the feds approved No Child Left Behind funds for the state, even though it had pulled out of Common Core. The Indianapolis Star reported:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan granted Indiana a one-year extension for its waiver from strict federal education requirements today and removed all conditions that were previously placed on the waiver because the state had not fully implemented certain reforms last year.

The decision means Indiana schools will not lose flexibility over how to spend more than $230 million in annual federal funding they receive for programs aimed at poor children.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said the extension approval by the U.S. Department of Education validates the state’s work in adopting new academic standards that replaced the Common Core and other reforms. . . . U.S. Department of Education issued a statement that, in part, praised the education reforms Indiana has implemented since fall 2011, saying they go far beyond the “rigid, top-down requirements” to obtain a waiver.

In a written statement praising his education secretary and advisers Pence said, “Since being elected Governor, I have consistently said that the Hoosier state needs to vigorously protect our commitment to high standards and to an accountability system that upholds those standards. I have also been clear that we need maximum flexibility under the law to develop our academic standards and accountability measures.” That’s what he did, and he got to keep federal funds.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. (Rob Goebel/Associated Press)

This is not only an achievement for Pence, who navigated through tumult from a fierce pro- and anti-Common Core battle, but in an odd way it is a blow to the most hysterical anti-Common Core proponents. In their telling, states are forced to adopt Common Core to get funding. That’s Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s basis for a suit against the federal government. Maybe he should call Pence and find out how to construct his own standards, if that’s what he wants, and still get NCLB money.

In fact this is nothing new. There has never been a strict requirement for states to adopt Common Core to get federal funds. States voluntarily joined Common Core and on that basis went hat in hand to the feds. Once they pulled out they had an obligation to demonstrate they were pursuing meaningful standards. Indiana did just that.

Another state, however, didn’t provide assurance that it was setting high standards for its pupils. The Post reports that Oklahoma pulled out of Common Core, but then: “The legislature sent its state board of education back to the drawing board with directions to write entirely new standards by 2016, and the state has reverted to old standards, which are widely seen as mediocre.” Can you blame the feds then for withholding money from failing schools?

The anti-Common Core people, in pushing a false “the feds are taking over the schools” narrative, have forgotten the problem: too many schools with standards that leave kids unprepared for college and far behind foreign competition. If they think Common Core is a grand plot, fine. Then reinvent the wheel and create equally tough standards. But allowing states that developed Common Core to stay with Common Core standards — which are NOT curriculum — seems to be the very essence of federalism.

Cutting through all the hysteria, the end goal should be high standards that challenge students and promote educational competency. Oklahoma, which has ranked poorly among states in education, and the people who blocked Common Core with no viable replacement should be ashamed. They’ve failed their children.