JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Opponents of Common Core have another tool to chip away at the embattled national education standards: a recent Missouri court ruling said the state’s membership in a group that creates the curriculum’s tests is unlawful.
Lawmakers in Missouri and North Dakota are using a central Missouri county’s circuit court ruling, which was issued last month and likely will be appealed, to push back. Already, a House budget committee in Missouri stripped $4.5 million in the state’s budget proposal for membership in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two groups that create Common Core tests.
The Common Core standards were adopted by 45 states in recent years in an attempt to create rigorous goals for what students should learn in each grade to be ready for college and careers. But the standards have been a magnet for critics ranging from parents to Republican lawmakers, who say they were created without enough local input.
Indiana was the first state to abandon those standards last year, and several others have followed suit. In states where a full-blown withdrawal was unsuccessful, some lawmakers have targeted the testing group memberships, but are meeting resistance from education departments that are unwilling to move away from Common Core standards and tests after years of pouring resources into their implementation.
Missouri can still purchase Smarter Balanced tests, even if they stop paying dues and no longer are members of the group, according to Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman Sarah Potter.
But the ruling could interfere with states’ ability to cooperate on potentially cost-saving measures, according to Potter and Washington state education department spokesman Nathan Olson. He said his department’s legal counsel is “troubled by the judge’s equation of a consortium and an interstate compact. The two, as I’ve been told, aren’t equal.”
In Michigan, lawmakers who fought to transition away from Common Core expressed concern that the state still paid $4.9 million for Smarter Balanced tests this year. And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed eliminating state funding for those assessments in the next two-year budget.
A Missouri House budget committee’s move to cut the consortium membership was an effort to ensure the state’s partnership ends, given the Cole County Circuit Court’s ruling.
Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, said stripping funding is necessary “to stay in compliance with the Constitution,” and House Speaker John Diehl similarly has called to end Smarter Balanced membership.
“The people of Missouri have made it clear they have a distaste for Common Core and that they do not want to see their tax dollars wasted on these federally-produced standards,” Diehl said in a statement a day after the Feb. 24 ruling.
The ruling stemmed from a September lawsuit that called the consortium an “illegal interstate compact not authorized by the U.S. Congress.” The plaintiffs, including suburban St. Louis businessman Fred Sauer, said they filed the suit to “challenge expenditures of public funds and the potential increased levy in taxes that may result if this controversy is not resolved.”
Smarter Balanced and the attorney general’s office, which represents the state of Missouri, are reviewing the ruling.
A North Dakota Republican lawmaker also is using the ruling to try to break from Common Core. Rep. Jim Kasper introduced an anti-Common Core bill that failed to win approval last month, but didn’t waste time prodding the state attorney general about the constitutionality of the state’s pact with Smarter Balanced.
Kasper said in a written statement that he hopes the case spurs North Dakota’s governor and education superintendent to take steps to withdraw from Smarter Balanced and “restore our state’s sovereignty regarding our education system.”
Associated Press reporters Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan; Donna Gordon Blankinship in Seattle; and James MacPherson in Bismarck, North Dakota, contributed to this report.
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