Louisiana’s state school board has delivered a rebuke to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s efforts to halt the implementation of Common Core in the state, voting to hire outside legal counsel for a possible lawsuit against the governor.
Tuesday night’s vote was split 6-3, and even among the three board members appointed directly by Jindal, two voted in favor of hiring counsel. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will have to hold another meeting to approve launching a lawsuit. With the start of the school year just six weeks away, that decision will have to be made soon.
“It is unconscionable that we’ve been put in this position,” State Superintendent of Education John White, who backs a lawsuit, said at the BESE’s meeting.
At the heart of the dispute is an order from Jindal that BESE abandon the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) standardized tests it planned to implement next year, and instead contract for a brand new test using a competitive bidding process.
Jindal, once a supporter of Common Core, has turned strongly against it in the past year. He urged both BESE and the Louisiana legislature to withdraw from the standards, but after they declined to do so he decided to act on his own. In mid-June, he issued executive orders telling BESE to create new educational standards and commanding them to withdraw from PARCC consortium.
Jindal’s demands have inflamed opposition from BESE as well as the state’s Department of Education, who say Jindal has no authority to demand new educational standards and argue the state is already in a binding contract to have its standardized tests supplied through June of 2015. The dispute is an unusual one, as it pits Jindal against fellow Republicans who remain committed to Common Core.
At the BESE meeting, Board President Chas Roemer (a Republican) said that Jindal had created a “confusing situation” that the courts had to resolve.
Superintendent White, who has in the past been a strong ally of Jindal’s on issues such as school vouchers, strongly encouraged the BESE to launch a lawsuit during testimony on Tuesday. He said the matter wasn’t one of policy but rather of constitutional overreach.
“We’re at a crossroads. It’s not a crossroads about Common Core. It’s not a crossroads about PARCC,” he said. “Finance and purchasing have collided with academic policy, and there’s a question about who makes the decision.”
If that question isn’t resolved, he said, “we won’t be able to proceed with a plan A, plan B, Plan C, or any other plan.”
On Monday, White had defended his opposition to Jindal by arguing that ditching the PARCC test and reverting to its current LEAP and iLEAP tests would cost the state up to $25 million. On Tuesday, he contended before BESE that the state was out of questions for its state tests and would need to craft new ones at a cost of $3 million or more. He said he wasn’t sure the state would be able to complete the task in time for 2015’s standardized testing period.
Superintendent White was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
The board rejected an alternative approach suggested by three board members who oppose Common Core, voting 6-3 against a proposal to reuse the state’s 2014 LEAP tests next year. By rejecting a reuse of the test, it remains completely uncertain what test Louisana will ultimately use in 2015.
Pro-Common Core groups in Louisiana have been encouraging BESE and White to hold the line against Jindal with a lawsuit. Bobby Erwin, president of the pro-Common Core Council for a Better Louisiana, told The Advocate on Monday that he saw a lawsuit as “probably the only way out of this situation.”
Kristy Nichols, the state commissioner of administration and Jindal’s representative at the BESE meeting, said no impasse existed between the two bodies and that BESE was simply persisting in defying the law.
“Today’s action boils down to one simple thing: BESE voted to hire outside counsel to determine if the Department of Education should follow state procurement law,” she told the Times-Picayune.
If Jindal has his way in Louisiana, the state will become the fourth state to withdraw from Common Core after implementing it, following Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina earlier this year.
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