Education board hiring lawyer in Common Core fight
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's top school board took the first steps Tuesday toward a possible lawsuit challenging Gov. Bobby Jindal's efforts to derail the Common Core education standards in public schools.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 6-3 to seek outside lawyers for guidance, hiring that needs approval from the attorney general's office. But no legal action could be taken against the Republican governor without another board vote.
Meanwhile, the board instructed Education Superintendent John White to try to negotiate a compromise with Jindal over what standardized tests will be used in the upcoming school year, with a report due to the board by July 18.
But BESE President Chas Roemer wasn't optimistic a compromise could be reached.
"I'm not certain there's common ground there," he said.
Jindal recently suspended a contract in order to keep the education department from buying testing material that is tied to Common Core. The move undermines use of education standards that Jindal once supported but now opposes.
The governor's chief financial adviser, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, said the education department didn't follow state procurement law in choosing its standardized tests and needs to seek competitive bids.
"We have called on Superintendent White to come up with a Plan B, that follows the state procurement code," said Jindal policy director Stafford Palmieri.
White and Roemer, both supporters of Common Core, said Jindal has overstepped his legal authority and is trying to use his oversight of state contracts to undermine education policy set by the education board, known as BESE, and the state Legislature.
A majority of BESE members support the multi-state standards, and lawmakers recently rejected efforts to scrap them in Louisiana.
If the education board chooses to sue over the testing dispute, it would be a striking split between one-time allies. Most board members won their elections with Jindal's support and helped push the governor's education agenda.
But since then, Jindal reversed course on Common Core.
The Common Core standards were developed by states as a way to better prepare students for college and careers. More than 40 states have adopted the grade-by-grade benchmarks of what students should learn in math and English.
Supporters of Common Core 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.
Because of the dispute, it's unclear what standardized tests third-graders through eighth-graders will take in the spring. Students return to school in about six weeks.
Three BESE members who oppose Common Core — Lottie Beebe, Carolyn Hill and Jane Smith — sought to keep Louisiana using its own state-developed standardized tests known as LEAP and iLEAP.
"It's common sense to use what we used last year so we can start this school year in a calm manner," said Smith, a Jindal appointee to the board.
But the board rejected the idea in a 6-3 vote.
White urged BESE members to pursue litigation, saying the governor's actions have raised legal questions about who can determine which tests should be used in public schools.
"When you don't know who's in the driver's seat of a plan, you have no plan at all," he said.
Nichols said if White needed clarity, he could seek it from her office, which oversees state contracting.
"Asking for reconciliation from the very people who oppose your fundamental position is not a recipe for clarity," White replied.