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Idaho Taxpayers Fight Common Core

(CN) - Idaho is being forced to pay money into an illegal interstate education "compact" that stymies state sovereignty and is not authorized by Congress, taxpayers claim in Federal Court.

Idaho joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium through a memorandum of understanding signed by Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, then-superintendent of public instruction Tom Luna and former president of the Idaho State Board of Education Richard Westerberg in June 2010.

Under the agreement, Idaho has committed to adopting the consortium's Common Core education standards that obligates Idaho taxpayers to pay the consortium $2.7 million in "membership fees" and another $3.5 million for student testing for the 2015-2016 school year, according to a 36-page complaint filed in Federal Court in Pocatello.

"They call it a 'consortium,' but it's a compact," Bryan Smith, attorney for the plaintiffs, told Courthouse News. "The state has entered into a compact among other states, but in order for that to be valid it has to be approved by Congress. Congress has already said 'We don't want to encroach on states' control over education.'"

The Department of Education, however, gave the consortium a solid foothold in setting a national standard for education curriculum when it began offering states grants conditioned upon their adoption of the consortium's Common Core education standards, according to Smith.

"Congress has said 'We don't want national standards,' but the Department of Education sidestepped that by partnering with the consortium," he explained. "They used $160 million to dangle in front of states. They said, hey, you want to get money, you can apply for a grant, but you have to understand that your application is contingent upon your adoption of common core."

Smith says they very act of applying for a grant binds states to Common Core. Although Idaho ultimately never saw a dime of grant money, it is still bound by the standards and must pay money into what has become a controversial system.

The idea of establishing a national standard for education curriculum grew legs in 2008-2009 when two lobbyist groups, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, approached Microsoft founder Bill Gates about funding their idea for a fundamental change in U.S. education policy.

Gates supported the groups by injecting $200 million into their effort, according to a June 2014 Washington Post report.

The consortium, however, is now the focus of some criticism generating debate on whether its Common Core standardized system of curriculum is actually working as intended or if it is even legal.

"The consortium operates with closed meetings and purports to be exempt from both state and federal open-records laws," according to the complaint. "The consortium also prevents teachers administering its assessments from reviewing the assessments. The consortium is thus insulated from any public accountability."

The plaintiffs sued Otter, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and president of the Idaho State Board of Education Don Soltman earlier this week.

"This case presents an Idaho taxpayer challenge to the illegal expenditure of Idaho public funds to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, on the grounds that the consortium is an illegal interstate compact not authorized by the U.S. Congress," the complaint states. "The Idaho Constitution recognizes that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. The membership of Idaho and other states in the consortium violates ... the United States Constitution, together with other provisions of federal and Idaho law.

"The use of Idaho taxpayer funds to support the consortium, an illegal interstate compact, therefore constitutes an unconstitutional expenditure subject to challenge by Idaho taxpayers."

The plaintiffs are represented by Bryan Smith of Smith Driscoll & Associates in Idaho Falls, and Christ Troupis in Eagle, Idaho.

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