Common-Core Fight Pits La. Governor Against State Chief, Board

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 03, 2014 4 min read
Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White testifies before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education about Gov. Bobby Jindal's actions against common-core testing on July 1 in Baton Rouge, La.

Louisiana’s fight over the Common Core State Standards and the associated assessments, pitting Gov. Bobby Jindal against his state superintendent and state school board, represents a new level of political warfare concerning the standards, even amid heated debate over the common core in numerous states.

With Gov. Jindal’s office investigating the state education department over assessments, and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s July 1 vote to retain legal counsel for a possible court fight with the governor’s office, it’s unclear how the standards and tests will be affected, if at all.

Last month, Gov. Jindal, a Republican, became the first chief executive who, despite seeing his state legislature, state school board, and state chief reaffirm their allegiance to the standards and aligned tests, refused to concede political defeat. In addition, the state board governing higher education instructed colleges to continue training teachers in the common core, ignoring the governor’s actions.

Other governors opposed to the standards in similar situations have declined to take this aggressive approach. For example, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—a Republican who is, like Gov. Jindal, thought to be interested in a presidential campaign—refused to act further when state lawmakers declined to approve a bill crafted by his staff that would have put the brakes on the standards.

Anxiety and Maneuvers

On June 18, Gov. Jindal proclaimed that the state should plan to replace the common core and the aligned tests from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career. The tests, however, appear to be where the governor has trained much of his fire, and the fight over them could ultimately come down to contract law.

His office has informed the Louisiana education department that its existing contract with the Data Recognition Corporation to be the sole provider of assessments, signed in 2011, does not allow the department to subsequently purchase the PARCC assessment without the governor’s approval.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announces efforts to remove Louisiana from tests associated with the common core on June 18 in Baton Rouge, La.

“By definition you cannot have multiple vendors capable of providing the same service in a sole source contract,” Pamela B. Rice, the interim director of the state’s Office of Contractual Review, wrote to state Superintendent John White the day after Gov. Jindal’s announcement.

The governor’s Division of Administration has also been tasked by the governor with investigating the state’s relationship with PARCC.

PARCC, in turn, has said it will continue to work in Louisiana because its bylaws state that Mr. White and Chas Roemer, the president of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, must agree with Gov. Jindal in order for the state to officially leave the consortium.

But the split between Gov. Jindal and the other two leading K-12 officials in the state isn’t a situation that PARCC (or a state) has dealt with before. It’s unclear how PARCC’s requirements for withdrawal will hold up if the matter becomes a legal battle.

More broadly, Gov. Jindal repeatedly alleged that the federal government was using the common core to infiltrate and take control of schools. (The Obama administration supports the standards and offered incentives for states to adopt them through grants, but didn’t pay for the standards or write them.)

The governor, once a supporter of the common core, said parents are “worried that the federal government is mandating what happens in classrooms.”

Others said that Washington was, indeed, the culprit for the state’s situation, but in a very different way. Mr. Roemer bluntly stated that Gov. Jindal was merely trying to appease “a very particular part of the vote in this country” as part of a campaign for the White House that was driving him to attack the common core.

“They’re maneuvers that run contrary to the democratic process and the laws of this state,” Mr. Roemer said.

Mr. White, meanwhile, said the governor has no power to stop the state’s work with either the standards or the PARCC tests. He said the state has followed all appropriate laws with respect to how it contracts for assessments. He referred to the state board’s statutory power over standards and tests: “These are in the state’s laws.”

Momentum Shift?

State Rep. Brett Geymann, a Republican and common-core opponent, said Gov. Jindal’s announcement gave new energy for those on his side heading into the 2015 legislative session, despite the legislature’s refusal to approve anti-common-core bills. “Now the landscape has changed,” he said.

Mr. Geymann conceded, however, that while he considered it likely that the state would go the way of Florida and Utah and develop its own tests, stopping the standards remained a tougher battle.

On the issue of the standards themselves, districts “have spent millions of dollars preparing for common core” and shouldn’t have the standards pulled out from under them five weeks before the next school year starts, said Scott Richard, the executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.

He said his organization hasn’t taken a position on the legal questions over testing contracts, although the state school boards association has said that PARCC should not be administered next year given concerns about districts’ capacity for the tests.

“That’s a decision that’s going to be made likely by attorneys and judges,” Mr. Richard said of the testing dispute. “We would hope that they would be resolved sooner rather than later.”

A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2014 edition of Education Week as Louisiana Standards Showdown: Governor vs. State Chief, Board


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