War Over Common Core: Louisiana Officials Lawyer Up

Published August 7, 2014

Controversy in Louisiana over Common Core implementation came to a climax at the end of July when the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 6-4 to join a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Jindal’s administration answered with a countersuit, demanding that the board nullify its original memorandum of understanding with Common Core testing group PARCC, ending Louisiana’s involvement in the federally funded national tests.

The dueling lawsuits are by far the most dramatic development in the more than month-long dispute between Jindal—a possible 2016 presidential contender—and his education department over implementation of national math and English curriculum mandates in Louisiana.

‘Every Tool They Have to Delay’
“It has become painfully clear that they are going to use every tool they have to delay and cause chaos and try to circumvent the intention of the legislature,” said BESE President Chas Roemer on a conference call with reporters. “It seems almost overkill at this point. They try on a regular basis to throw in a wrench. They have no interest in a resolution – none. We’ve provided them multiple options and they’ve been rejected.”

The kerfuffle began in June, when Jindal wrote a letter to state PARCC officials, in accordance with PARCC bylaws, requesting to withdraw Louisiana from PARCC, of which Louisiana has been a member since 2010.

“It’s time for PARCC to withdraw from Louisiana,” Jindal said in a press release. “We won’t let the federal government take over Louisiana’s education standards. We’re very alarmed about choice and local control over curriculum being taken away from parents and educators.”

PARCC is a nonprofit testing organization funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to develop tests to measure whether students are learning what Common Core sets forth for them. The federal grant ends this September.

To Bid Or Not to Bid
“PARCC does not allow a competitive bidding process, which is required under Louisiana law,” Jindal said.

The governor said in his letter that Louisiana’s involvement in PARCC violated state sovereignty over education testing, and that using the PARCC-developed testing violated the state law requirement for competitive bidding on procurements.

“Several changes have occurred since the MOU was signed that make Louisiana’s membership in conflict with Louisiana law,” Jindal explained.

PARCC officials claim that there was a competitive bidding process: New Mexico, another PARCC member, held a competitive bid on pricing and once their deal was settled, the PARCC-developed assessment was available at the same price to all PARCC states, they said. Only one company bid for the PARCC contract in New Mexico, which has sparked another lawsuit from a competitor alleging the bid was rigged in the winner’s favor.

“There was a competitive bidding process,” a PARCC spokesman repeatedly told School Reform News.

But Jindal’s administration claims that the PARCC bid deal does not comply with state law, as there was no open bidding with any other assessment providers.

Unelected Groups Decide Whether Louisiana Must Stay
In order for Louisiana to fully withdraw from the consortium, PARCC bylaws also require two other officials—current state Superintendent John White and BESE’s Roemer—to sign off.

But Roemer and White adamantly oppose Jindal’s policy: immediately following Jindal’s June 18 actions, White’s Department of Education published a defiant statement that Louisiana would continue to implement the Common Core standards and use PARCC tests.

“We’ve been working on this test for four years,” White said. “We just think it’s a good test.”

The Jindal administration and the Department of Education have had several meetings over the past two months, but the situation has only escalated, culminating in the thicket of lawsuits.

On July 10, BESE officials—including Roemer—proposed a plan to open a transparent, competitive bidding process between vendors for assessments. The governor agreed to compromise under a few conditions: a procurement team would oversee the buying process (a rare scrutiny), and the governor’s office would have direct involvement in the purchase.

Jindal’s administration opposes implementing nationally recognized standards not determined by the state legislature.

Officials expect lawsuit hearings in mid-August, just as schools open for the fall.

Image by Gage Skidmore.