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Lawsuit challenges state payments to support "Common Core'

September 20, 2014 at 6:00 a.m. | Updated September 20, 2014 at 6:00 a.m.

A St. Louis man who successfully has challenged other state laws through the courts has sued Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro and other state officials over the "Common Core" education standards designed to be the same for states that adopt them.

Nanci Gonder, Attorney General Chris Koster's spokeswoman, said the state officially was served with the lawsuit on Thursday, then said: "We decline to comment on pending litigation."

In a 31-page lawsuit filed in the Cole County circuit court last week, Fred N. Sauer accused state officials of disbursing state taxpayers' money "to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium ("SBAC'), an illegal interstate compact not authorized by the U.S. Congress."

Anne Gassel and Gretchen Logue are plaintiffs in the case along with Sauer, and are identified in the suit only as Missouri residents and taxpayers.

They 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."

The lawsuit said the state Elementary and Secondary Education department's "budget for Fiscal Year 2015 includes an allocation of $4,300,000.00 of State Assessment Funds to be paid to "UCLA (Smarter Balanced).' The DESE budgets for FY 2013 and FY 2014, by contrast, did not include any direct payments of Missouri funds to SBAC."

The suit doesn't cite the specific line item showing that disbursement of money to the Smarter Balanced agency or to UCLA, in the state's 2014-15 operating budget that lawmakers passed last spring.

A reporter's search of the budget bills didn't find that line-item, and Sauer didn't respond to an email seeking that information.

Still, the lawsuit argued, "The $4.3 million allocated in DESE's budget to "UCLA (Smarter Balanced)' for FY 2015 constitutes funds to be paid to SBAC.

"Payments of Missouri funds are being made, or soon will be made, from the State's treasury to SBAC in the form of membership fees and/or in the form of other payments, whether directly or indirectly to SBAC."

The suit said Nixon and Nicastro have, since 2009, "engaged in a course of conduct that would have ceded Missouri's sovereignty over educational policy within its borders to SBAC, an interstate consortium operating under the influence of federal regulators located in Washington, DC."

And, they argued, Congress never sanctioned the interstate compact that created the consortium. Their lawsuit offers a detailed legal analysis why the SBAC's "existence" violates the U.S. Constitution and various "provisions of federal and Missouri law."

Over the years, the lawsuit said, Congress has passed several laws making sure "that States and local governments retain control over education policy and decision making."

Development of the now-controversial "Common Core" standards began in 2009, the lawsuit reminded the court, when the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers "announced an initiative to develop the Common Core State Standards. Common Core was intended to constitute a common set of standards among most or all states to define requisite skills and knowledge in English language arts and mathematics."

The suit argued that the new standards always were intended to replace "the existing patchwork of state standards" with a uniform, nationalized set of standards, assessments, and curriculum, which would not vary from state to state.

And then, with the 2009 Stimulus package and the federal Education department's "Race to the Top" program, the suit alleged, the federal government began an effort to take over the nation's education standards, requiring academic content standards to be "fully implemented statewide in each State in the consortium no later than the 2014-2015 school year."

In addition to Nixon and Nicastro, the lawsuit named State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, Commissioner of Administration Doug Nelson and the state Board of Education as defendants.

The case was assigned to Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green. No hearings had been scheduled as of Friday evening.

Among its requests, the lawsuit asks the court to declare that:

• The SBAC is illegal and void as an entity whose existence, activities, and operation violate the U.S. Constitution, federal law, and Missouri law.

• No Missouri taxpayer funds may be lawfully disbursed to SBAC, directly or indirectly.

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