Judge Blocks Missouri from Paying ‘Smarter Balanced’ Dues

Published December 20, 2014

Missouri Coalition Against Common Core (MCACC) founders Gretchen Logue and Anne Gassel have teamed up with national standards opponent Fred Sauer to sue Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and the state for paying dues to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). A Cole County circuit court judge issued a temporary restraining order on November 25 preventing Missouri from paying membership fees to SBAC.

Missouri is a governing member of SBAC, which writes tests aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Public records show the state owes almost $4.3 million to the consortium for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Gassel argues the SBAC is an illegal interstate compact. The Compact Clause of the U.S. Constitution forbids states from entering into contracts without congressional approval. “The state should not be paying dues to an illegal entity,” Gassel said.

Membership dues are calculated by multiplying a projected number of tested students with a selected assessment package, which for Missouri costs $10.10 per student. According to Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Communications Coordinator Sarah Potter, membership fees pay for “access to the formative, interim, and summative operation assessment resources, and ongoing item development and technical reporting.”

DESE Chief of Staff Robin Coffman signed a Memorandum of Understanding on September 5 further binding Missouri to the consortium. By signing the agreement, member states committed to SBAC’s acting fiscal agent, Regents of the University of California (UC). Membership in the consortium automatically renews on an annual basis after the contract’s initial three-year term, effective July 2014.

Replacing Common Core Standards

Despite Missouri’s current SBAC membership, the state legislature passed a law in May that, through the work of legislator and education department appointed groups, will allow the state to replace Common Core standards by 2016. In the meantime, the state education department will move forward with its plan to administer CCSS curriculum and tests.

MCACC argues Common Core standards are “untried and unproven” and would not ultimately improve education while boosting the profits of corporations and nonprofit organizations involved in the system. Gassel says Missouri will not be completely rid of Common Core until the state is able to leave SBAC.

In order to exit SBAC, a state must submit a written explanation of statutory and policy reasons for membership termination. Gassel says two-thirds of the consortium’s member states must then vote to approve a state’s exit, as remaining states must absorb membership costs. Gassel says if the judge rules in MCACC’s favor, SBAC will be forced to terminate Missouri’s membership, as the Memorandum of Understanding cites a member state’s failure to appropriate funds to annual membership fees as a cause for termination.

Other Attempts to Leave SBAC

Missouri is not the only state to move away from CCSS while remaining connected to the standards through SBAC. In August, Iowa attempted to the leave the consortium.

In a joint letter, Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Department of Education Director Brad Buck cited the Iowa Assessment Taskforce, which was created by the Iowa Legislature to replace the national standards, as a reason for not further committing to SBAC.

“Iowa’s goal is to have a state assessment that is the right fit for Iowa,” the statement said. Iowa is currently listed as an affiliated member on the SBAC website.

A blogger from Stop Common Core NC wrote in response to the Missouri judge’s restraining order, “Upon legislation reviewing and replacing Common Core in North Carolina being passed, our state should have pulled out of this consortium. Why haven’t we pulled out? Do citizens need to sue in North Carolina too?”

North Carolina has established a commission to replace Common Core, but the state, like Missouri, is a governing member of SBAC, which requires participation in decision-making processes.

Missouri DESE’s Potter said of DESE’s level of involvement, “We participate in all meetings, both web-based and in-person. . . . Missouri educators served as item writers, item reviewers, and as achievement-level-setting online and in-person panelists.”

Although it’s unclear whether the lawsuit will allow Missouri to leave the SBAC, Gassel says she’s hopeful other states will follow their lead.

Brittany Wagner ([email protected]) is an education policy research assistant at the Show-Me Institute.

Image by COCOEN daily photos.