BESE legal contract likely needs Jindal OK
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — There's a wrinkle in the state education board's plan to hire attorneys for advice on a possible lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal: The contract for special legal counsel appears to need the governor's approval.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted Tuesday to seek outside lawyers for guidance in a dispute over Jindal's efforts to undermine the Common Core education standards in public schools.
Under Louisiana law, state agencies, boards and commissions that hire outside lawyers must get written approval from the attorney general and the governor.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, Laura Gerdes Colligan, said Wednesday the provision means BESE's contract, if approved by the attorney general, then would have to go to the Jindal administration for review.
"BESE will follow state law," education board spokesman Kevin Calbert said in an email Wednesday.
Whether that will complicate BESE's hiring plan remains unclear.
Board President Chas Roemer said the two law firms selected for the work have agreed to represent the education board for free, which gives the Jindal administration no room to argue over payment structure.
Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols' office wouldn't say Wednesday if Nichols sees her oversight role as a way to stop the board from hiring lawyers who could eventually file a lawsuit against her boss.
"The Commissioner is committed to reviewing all legal contracts in accordance with the law, including verification that minimum standards and appointment procedures are met," Nichols spokeswoman Meghan Parrish said in a written statement.
Seeking to derail Louisiana's use of standards that the governor opposes, Jindal suspended a state contract in order to keep the education department from buying testing material tied to Common Core. Nichols said the education department didn't follow state procurement law in choosing its standardized tests and needs to seek competitive bids.
Roemer and Education Superintendent John White, supporters of Common Core, say the governor has overstepped his legal authority. They say he is trying to use his oversight of state contracts to undermine education policy set by the education board and the Legislature.
The Common Core standards have been adopted by more than 40 states as grade-by-grade benchmarks of what students should learn in math and English. Supporters say the standards promote critical thinking and raise expectations for students.
However, criticism has grown as President Barack Obama's administration encouraged states to use the standards. Jindal, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, says the federal government is trying to use Common Core to control local curriculum and educational systems.
Amid the dispute, the education board voted to hire contract attorneys for guidance. But no legal action can be taken against the governor without another board vote.
Meanwhile, BESE directed White to try to find a compromise that keeps everyone out of court. Jindal and White are supposed to sit-down within two weeks for a meeting, but the two sides seem far apart on a resolution over what standardized tests will be used in the upcoming school year.