Louisiana School Board May Back Down In Feud With Jindal

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Blake Neff Reporter
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The state school board of Louisiana, which is on the brink of launching a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal over his plan to pull the state out of Common Core, indicated Thursday that it may be willing to back down and negotiate.

Rather than use new Common Core-aligned standardized tests created by the multi-state consortium Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), officers with Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) indicated that they are willing to continue using a modified form of the state’s old LEAP exams for one additional year.

The modified test, said BESE Chairman Chas Roemer, would incorporate some questions from the PARCC exam in order to adhere to a state law requiring that 2015’s standardized tests be comparable to tests used in other states.

The proposal comes one week before a July 17 meeting that has been scheduled between Jindal and state Superintendent John White. It is hoped that the meeting will help forestall a possible lawsuit by BESE against Jindal.

“It’s not 100 percent what the governor wanted and is not 100 percent what BESE wanted,” said Roemer in a conference call with reporters, adding that he was “optimistic” that Jindal would be open to an agreement.

Jindal’s office appears to be holding fast for the time being, however. Kristy Nichols, the governor’s commissioner of administration, told reporters she believed BESE’s plan was unworkable because it relies on contracts the governor maintains are invalid.

Certain aspects of the deal suggest the proposed compromise could simply be smoke and mirrors. Even the original PARCC test plan would have been a mix of national and state questions, since PARCC only produces math and English tests, leaving science and social studies up to individual states.

The proposed plan to maintain the LEAP test could still allow the state to rely on PARCC for most of its English and math questions, indicating that the “compromise” could amount to the PARCC exam under a new name. With Jindal expressing a strong commitment to rooting out any trace of Common Core from the state, even allowing Common Core-derived questions onto a Louisiana-created test could be a significant concession for him.

Jindal, once a supporter of Common Core, has switched sides in the past year and become one of the most prominent Republican critics of the multistate standards, even comparing them to Soviet totalitarianism. He urged both BESE and the Louisiana legislature to pull the state out of PARCC, but when both refused he decided to take action himself, issuing a set of executive orders demanding the state craft new education standards.

Jindal also suspended a contract the state had made to supply the PARCC test next year, claiming that it violated the state’s procurement laws. The PARCC tests, one of two major multi-state exams created to align with Common Core, are considered a key component of the standards’ implementation.

Until Thursday, both BESE and Superintendent White have stood firmly against Jindal’s actions, insisting that his executive orders are illegal and that the state will both proceed with Common Core and the PARCC tests as planned. White in particular has urged BESE to file a lawsuit challenging Jindal’s orders, and last week BESE voted to retain its own legal counsel should such a course of action arise.

The feud has caused sharp divisions between figures who were once allies on the issue of education. Both Jindal and BESE Chairman Roemer are Republicans, while White is an independent who has worked closely with Jindal in defending the state’s school voucher plan from a federal challenge.

The fresh battle between the three has proven to be the most bitter of many Common Core fights across the country in 2014. If Jindal gets his way, Louisiana will be the fourth state to break off from Common Core, following Indiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma.

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