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Louisiana State School Board Votes To Sue Jindal

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s effort to tear down Common Core in his state has broken out into all-out war with his state’s school board.

In a special meeting Tuesday afternoon, Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted to sue Jindal in an effort to stop him from blocking the state’s use of a Common Core-derived standardized states.

Once a supporter of Common Core, Jindal has turned sharply against the new educational standards in the past year. He first urged BESE and the state legislature to eliminate Common Core, but when they declined to do so during the spring, Jindal decided to act unilaterally.

In June, Jindal issued a set of executive orders seeking to force BESE to adopt new educational standards and prevent the administration of standardized test questions developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a testing consortium formed to create Common Core-aligned tests.

Jindal attempted to block the tests by claiming the contracts with vendors to supply them were, in fact, illegal, and that BESE must go through a new contracting process that the governor would be able to influence. Since the very day these executive orders were issued, BESE, along with state Superintendent John White, have been openly defiant.

While BESE was originally planning to launch a brand new lawsuit, on Tuesday the board instead decided to attach itself to a lawsuit filed last week against Jindal by a charter school organization and a group of concerned parents. The lawsuit argues that the state Constitution gives exclusive authority to BESE and the Louisiana legislature to choose and implement educational standards, and that Jindal’s executive orders are therefore gross constitutional overreach.

BESE Chairman Chas Roemer said joining the lawsuit was “a responsible step,” necessary for BESE to defend its constitutional turf.

Roemer, himself a Republican like Jindal, said BESE had attempted to work out compromises, but that negotiations had been in vain due to Jindal’s desire to impress conservative activists and further his own national political ambitions.

“It’s all about their politics,” Roemer said. “They have no interest in a resolution — none.”

The feud between Jindal and BESE has thrown the entire state’s education system into chaos. With the school year about to begin, the state’s teachers have no idea what sort of standardized tests their students will be taken come next spring, and a lawsuit could take many months before any sort of resolution is reached.

In an effort to ease fears, BESE also announced that the state department of education will officially decide what sort of test will be administered by the end of August, regardless of what happens in the courtroom. If necessary, the test could be administered this year through the extraordinary step of the department of education creating and administering the test on its own, without the support of third-party test vendors, Superintendent White told reporters after BESE’s meeting.

The decision to sue demonstrated how the feud over Common Core has torn apart former political allies, as two of the three BESE members appointed by Jindal voted to sue their benefactor. Judy Miranti, one of those appointees, complained that “we are in this position because of Gov. Jindal.”

With a final vote of 6-4 with one abstention, these defectors provided the deciding votes.

Even BESE’s efforts to join the lawsuit could cause further strife. While Louisiana’s attorney general has approved BESE’s retention of attorney Philip Preis to offer independent legal counsel for a lawsuit, Jindal’s administration says the governor’s permission is required as well, and so far Jindal has refused to provide it. With Reis providing pro bono service, Roemer said that BESE will be able to proceed despite Jindal’s objections, with a state court making the final determination about whether Preis’s retention was legal.

Roemer bitterly accused Jindal of employing such blocking tactics in an attempt to wield autocratic power and trample the state’s elected bodies.

“It is 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,” Roemer said.

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