Jindal still playing a hand in Common Core

Bobby Jindal
Bobby Jindal

Governor waits to see what lawmakers will do

The Louisiana Legislature has turned into a burial ground for sweeping anti-Common Core bills, which means the last hope for critics of the new academic standards and tests is Gov. Bobby Jindal.

“I think the best chance for us is for the governor to do something from the executive branch,” said state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, a leading critic of the standards.

Jindal may do just that.

“We are still open to taking action after they leave,” he said in an interview Friday, referring to the Legislature’s June 2 adjournment.

With just two weeks left in the 2014 legislative session, the major bills that would undo or revamp the overhaul, and especially the tests that go with it, appear to be dead.

The House Education Committee soundly rejected key bills by Geymann and state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.

Those bills, both backed by the governor, would scrap the Common Core standards, order new ones written in Louisiana and shelve the controversial test plans.

Another Geymann bill, which would require the powerful Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget to review the Common Core testing contract, narrowly failed in the House Appropriations Committee.

A fourth measure to scrap the standards, sponsored by state Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, was rejected in the Senate Education Committee on May 12 on a 6-1 vote.

Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, which is pro-Common Core, said the message is clear.

“I think the Legislature has spoken fairly definitively that they want to stay the course with Common Core and continue with meaningful testing,” he said.

While bills around the edges of the issue are pending, both sides say the focus now is on whether Jindal will do what anti-Common Core legislators were unable to do.

“If he truly is being honest with the constituents and honest with himself and he really wants to get out of it, he has the ability to do it,” Henry said.

Louisiana is one of 43 states that adopted the new standards in reading, writing and math in 2010.

The state also plans to rely on a consortium called the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career to quiz students in grades 3 to 8 on what they know starting next year.

But Jindal, in response to a letter from Geymann and other lawmakers, has said he may have the option to order the state out of the tests if the Legislature fails to act. “I know the lawyers are all looking at it,” the governor said.

State Superintendent of Education John White and Chas Roemer, president of Louisiana’s top school board, disagree with the view that Jindal can drop the tests unilaterally.

White and Roemer are both Common Core backers.

Both contend that it would take the signatures of Jindal, White and Roemer to end the state’s involvement with PARCC, which could undo or delay the implementation of Common Core.

They say a memorandum of understanding signed by Jindal and others four years ago makes that clear.

However, Geymann and other critics of the standards are increasingly citing the case of Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott, who like Jindal is a Republican, ordered that state out of PARCC.

“We think the Florida model is certainly something he can look at,” Geymann said.

Erwin and other Common Core backers, while encouraged by what has happened in the Legislature, are worried about the possibility that Jindal could scuttle the tests.

“The governor is still a wild card,” Erwin said.

In the Friday interview, Jindal repeated his view that the state could do a better job of developing its own academic standards and his distaste for “one size fits all” exams being developed by the 17-state PARCC consortium.

“I think there has been a rush to ignore the pleas of parents,” he said.

On a second front, Jindal has said he is considering whether he also has the option to kill PARCC test plans through the Administrative Procedures Act.

Geymann, one of 17 House members who raised that possibility in a letter to the governor, said he has until around the end of the month to pursue that option.

“I do not have a sense of what he is going to do,” he said.

While four anti-Common Core bills were defeated, the debate could be reignited through amendments to other bills in the waning days of the session.

One of those pending in a Senate committee is House Bill 953, which would soften the impact of the new standards for the 2015-16 school year.

Geymann also got an amendment added to the state’s proposed $25 billion operating budget aimed at putting new restrictions on purchasing of Common Core tests.

“There is still time for the Legislature to act,” Jindal said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.