‘State-Led’ Common Core Pushed by Federally Funded Nonprofit

Published April 24, 2013

A central defense of the new national education standards, now generating spirited public debates, is that the federal government did not mandate or create them.

“The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics,” the official Common Core website states. In 2009, two nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations called the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), convened government officials and dozens of consultants to write, rewrite, and, in June 2010, finally publish Common Core.

Five months later, 44 states had agreed to trade their K-12 math and English targets and tests for Common Core’s. Those standards are now moving into 87 percent of public school classrooms, and reshaping textbooks and tests for even states and schools that did not elect Common Core. National Common Core tests, funded exclusively by the federal government, come out in 2014-2015.

Taxpayer Dollars Dominate
Previous School Reform News reports have revealed state and federal tax money provide approximately half of CCSSO’s operating funds, and that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation money has been intimately involved in this behind-closed-doors process. NGA receives an even bigger proportion of its operating funds from tax dollars.

According to the latest IRS 990 form for the NGA’s Center for Best Practices, the nonprofit arm of NGA that shares “a common pool of cash and investments” in 2010 received 80 percent of its $14.8 million annual income from taxpayers. Tax documents also show that back in 2004, the earliest available documents traced, NGA received $31 million from taxpayers. Tax funding has made up most of NGA’s income every year in between.

Approximately half of NGA’s tax-provided revenue comes from the feds, and the other half from membership dues states pay. In its latest financial statement showing $16.9 million in total revenue for 2011-2012, $4.9 million of that came from the feds, $5.5 from states, and another $3 million from corporate sponsors.

SRN contacted NGA for information about its finances and Common Core work. A spokeswoman referred all significant questions to NGA’s communications director, then did not respond to several follow-up requests for that referral.

To Vote or Not to Vote
Despite its heavy tax support, NGA is not required to make meetings, votes, and materials public like government bodies, and it has not done so for its work on Common Core.

NGA is a private trade organization whose actions have no legal binding on states. Governors do vote during NGA’s two annual meetings to express shared priorities, former Virginia Gov. George Allen (R) told School Reform News, but “by the time they vote on a position the [resolutions] get watered down so much any objections are already accommodated. It’s unlike legislatures, with committee hearings and votes.”

Even so, NGA has not released what, if any, resolution 2009’s governors voted on to authorize its subsequent Common Core work. Neither has it released the vote tally.

Not All Governors Involved
Even if governors do vote on vague resolutions that have no legal power, not all attend NGA meetings. The NGA spokeswoman would only say “we consider all governors members of the association,” but five governors have publicly withdrawn membership and refused to pay dues. These are from Florida, Maine, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Texas, and all are Republicans. Only one is from a state that has refused Common Core—those are Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia.

Spokesmen for the abstaining governors all essentially said NGA membership provided too little benefit for the money.

Texas “Gov. [Rick] Perry knows and works with governors all over the nation on a variety of different issues that are important to Texas and our country as a whole,” spokesman Josh Havens said. “We didn’t feel that active membership was a smart use of taxpayer funds.”

Texas governors have not been NGA members since 2003, he said. Before that, the state’s NGA dues ran $125,000 to $150,000 per year. Idaho suspended its membership in 2009 for financial reasons, and it just resumed paying about $40,000 for membership and $30,000 for travel to meetings in 2013, said Jon Hanian, a spokesman for Gov. Butch Otter (R).

“This governor is a strong believer in the Tenth Amendment and state’s rights, and he believes states are the laboratory of the republic,” Hanian said. “He values sharing his experience as well as sharing experience of other governors as he crafts public policy. When there have been attempts to have national policies to the detriment of the 10th amendment, he’s viewed his role as a counterbalance.”

Automatic Membership
When other journalists have asked NGA about governors who want no part in NGA, spokesmen have responded by essentially saying governors cannot choose to leave. When Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) pulled out of NGA in 2012, telling the Bangor Daily News, “I get no value out of those meetings. They are too politically correct and everybody is lovey-dovey and no decisions are ever made,” NGA’s communications director responded by saying all governors are NGA members even if they don’t pay dues.

She declined to say which states pay dues and why the dues vary.

This article is part one of two. Next: How NGA coordinated Common Core and NGA’s progressive roots.

Image by Office of Governor Patrick.