“The proposed amendments to the ASWB bylaws related to membership provide ASWB with the flexibility to ensure member board participation in important decision-making related to programs and services, as well as alleviate, or perhaps eliminate, the need for formal state letter agreements. … To be clear, to the extent a state law requires a contract with ASWB, the association will negotiate with the relevant parties to meet any such requirement.” – Dale Atkinson, ASWB legal counsel
The Association of Social Work Boards is a not-for-profit organization whose membership is composed of government boards that regulate the profession of social work. ASWB delegates from the member boards are empowered with decision-making related to elections, resolution processes, business and educational programming, and setting the general direction of the organization through committee participation and use of programs and services. In this way, ASWB should be viewed as operating as one with its member boards.
At the same time, ASWB is a private organization (as opposed to a government agency) that is exempt from taxation under section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. This tax status is premised upon ASWB programs and services being offered with the intent to lessen burdens on state government. ASWB’s signature program is its licensure examinations. This program provides member boards with access to legally defensible uniform examinations to assess licensure candidates’ entry-level competence as one criterion of licensure eligibility.
Complexity of member contracts
The ASWB examinations are developed, administered, scored, and maintained to meet industry standards following psychometric principles. For the most part, the examinations are referenced in either statute, rules/regulations, and/or through policy. Use of the examinations by all member boards promotes uniformity in competence determinations and contributes to the efficiencies of government. It is this consistency that enables member boards to have confidence in licensure decisions based on licensure in other jurisdictions. Confidence and trust in fellow member boards enhances the practice mobility and license portability of social workers and assists in justifying jurisdiction-based licensure of the profession.
In order to protect its intellectual property interests, ASWB has historically entered into state letter agreements with its member boards that use the examination(s). These letter agreements set forth terms and conditions of access to the examinations and use of applicants’ scores. The ASWB program has its complexities, as there are multiple examinations due to multiple categories of licensure in the member board jurisdictions. These letter agreements have served their purposes over the years. Based on the existence of formal letter agreements with each member board, however, additional requirements are being thrust upon ASWB through complex addendums. They include registration requirements with the secretaries of state and/or attorneys general, compliance with state-specific nuanced laws, and the potential for mandated formal permission to do business in each and every jurisdiction. Accordingly, ASWB is reviewing how it engages with its member boards.
One solution: Modify ASWB bylaws
ASWB, through legal counsel and a task force specifically charged with reviewing relationships with its member boards, has considered numerous models for respecting state and provincial boards while simultaneously protecting its intellectual property interests in the examination program. The solution that ensures delegate and member board authority and maximum participation involves modifying the governing documents—namely the ASWB bylaws.
The ASWB bylaws are the lynchpin of the organization and provide authority to the member boards. Delegates from each member board elect the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors engage in generative and strategic planning regarding the current and future programs and services based upon input from the membership. In addition, the Board of Directors oversees the ASWB chief executive officer, who in turn, oversees ASWB staff. The proposed amendments to the ASWB bylaws related to membership provide ASWB with the flexibility to ensure member board participation in important decision-making related to programs and services, as well as alleviate, or perhaps eliminate, the need for formal state letter agreements.
Proposed amendments enhance compliance and uniformity
At the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Delegate Assembly, delegates will be asked to vote on these amendments. While linguistically simple, they present a significant opportunity. In short, the amendments require member boards to comply with the policies adopted from time to time by the Board of Directors related to use of the ASWB licensure examinations. This concept is not necessarily new and is technically already subject to enforcement by the Board of Directors. In fact, the required use of specific examinations developed for specific licensure categories is already a policy. ASWB is more than halfway through a five-year time frame set by the ASWB Board requiring member board compliance with examination use only in categories for which the exams are intended.
Proposed bylaws amendments to Article III, Section 3 (definition of a Member Board) and Article IV, Section 2 (admittance into ASWB) are intended to recognize the requirement of compliance with such policies. Adoption of these proposed bylaws amendments will alleviate the need for formal letter agreements with the member boards and eliminate the negotiations and inconsistencies of such agreements. To be clear, to the extent a state law requires a contract with ASWB, the association will negotiate with the relevant parties to meet any such requirement. Further, to the extent any policies adopted by ASWB related to the examination program conflict with jurisdictional law, ASWB will ensure compliance with that law through the appropriate legal mechanism.
Recognizing the important role member boards play in the association governance will be enhanced by using the bylaws to achieve compliance and uniformity.