Saying no to the pile of money

It’s not the most exciting read, but a white paper by State Budget Solutions delves into the question of whether states will be able to resist the pile of money dangled by the federal government to adopt Common Core educational standards. Obviously there are states like Maryland which won’t say no to anything handed out by the federal government, regardless of quality or need, but there are a few which have not adopted Common Core or want to reconsider it. The argument made by SBS was that, despite the fact most states have adopted this “voluntary” change in standards, it’s unlikely that all states will have to because a recent Supreme Court decision found that the threat of withholding all Medicaid funding was unnecessarily “coercive”:

In NFIB v. Sebelius, the Court upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the individual mandate for health insurance. But seven justices also agreed that the federal government was not permitted to expand the joint state-federal Medicaid program by threatening states that it would eliminate all of its financial support for Medicaid that the states had previously received. The Court determined that such a penalty was unconstitutionally coercive.

Because of that decision, as well as a 1987 SCOTUS decision (South Dakota v. Dole) regarding the reduction of federal aid to states not adopting a legal drinking age of 21, it appears the permissible limit of federal reduction lies someplace north of five percent, but Uncle Sam cannot take away all money.

Still, given the fact that federal transfers comprise between 1/4 and 1/2 of a state’s budget – very scary in and of itself – the claim that just 12.3% of education dollars come from the federal government doesn’t mean there aren’t other, more devious ways to punish states for non-compliance. Moreover, local jurisdictions – particularly in Maryland – have a very difficult time declaring their financial independence from the state. Nowhere was this more evident than in the passage of 2012’s Senate Bill 848, which in essence invalidated locally-adopted property tax caps if the state deemed too little money was being allocated to education. The difference in our fair county was a staggering $14 million, and I expounded on this at the time.

This doesn’t address the philosophy of Common Core, which is also controversial and a reason to waive participation, but it makes the case that states can refuse the money dangles before it by Uncle Sam.