Panel rejects Jindal-backed bill to kill Common Core

Despite last-minute support from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office, a bid to scrap the hotly debated Common Core academic standards was rejected Wednesday night by the Louisiana House Education Committee.

The first proposal was House Bill 381. The vote was seven in favor and 12 opposed.

A few hours later, the same committee rejected a second anti-Common Core measure, House Bill 558, dealing a major blow to efforts to derail the academic goals during the 2014 legislative session.

Earlier, Jindal’s office quietly lined up behind the first proposal, HB381, which sparked more than seven hours of often heated testimony and debate.

It would set up a 30-member commission to draft new academic goals, which would then require approval of the Legislature.

The new rules would replace the Common Core standards that the state adopted in 2010, and which are set to take full effect for the 2014-15 school year.

Jindal’s position on the volatile topic has been unclear for weeks, and no one from his staff testified.

But after some confusion on the issue, a staff member of the committee said the Governor’s Office submitted a “green card” on HB381, which indicates support for the measure.

The stance means that Jindal was at odds with his hand-picked state Superintendent of Education, John White, as well as key allies on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who blasted the anti-Common Core measure as detrimental to children.

Several traditional GOP allies of the governor voted “no” on the same bill, including House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge.

State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, said his House Bill 381 is a fresh approach that “will give us a chance to develop our own standards equal or higher than what we have today. Not to mention that we will have state and local control,” Geymann said.

“It gets everybody to the table,” he said of the proposed commission, which would include parents, teachers, principals, deans and representatives of a wide range of education groups.

But state education leaders, parents and others charged that the measure would throw Louisiana’s education efforts into reverse, especially after years of preparation for the Common Core overhaul.

“We don’t need a committee and a subcommittee and another committee,” said Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which has endorsed the changes twice.

Roemer said the state’s goal should be to ensure that fourth-graders and other students here are competitive with their peers nationwide. “It’s not complicated,” he said.

Common Core includes new standards in reading, writing and math for students from kindergarten through 12th grade, and 44 states have adopted the blueprint.

However, the issue has triggered months of public rallies and angry appearances at state and local school boards, especially in southeast Louisiana.

Backers say the new rules will improve student achievement in a state that has long lagged behind most of the nation.

Opponents said Wednesday that the changes were forced into classrooms without input from parents and others, and with the heavy hand of the federal government behind them.

“I am a teacher,” said Marla Baldwin, a teacher and mother of four who lives in Calcasieu Parish. “I can’t help my children with their homework.”

The daylong gathering took place in a jammed committee room on the ground floor of the State Capitol.

Officials from the Fire Marshal’s Office were on hand to make sure that capacity rules were followed.

Critics questioned whether a 30-member commission would be workable, and how long it would take to replace standards that have been in the works for four years.

Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, said the proposed panel “looks like a Baptist church committee.”

Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, another member of the committee, questioned the speed of the work.

“I just want to make sure we are not out in limbo for the next 10 years,” Champagne said.

Patrice Pujol, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, praised Geymann’s measure.

“Superintendents feel like it is time to slow down and get the implementation of standards right,” said Pujol, who is superintendent of the Ascension Parish school system.

State Superintendent of Education John White denounced the bill. “How does this bill help the children of the great state of Louisiana?” asked White, one of the top proponents of Common Core.

Last week, White’s department, in an internal memo, said scrapping Common Core would cost the state up to $25 million over the next five years, and local school districts millions more.

He also rejected the view that the rollout of Common Core was botched. “It is the nature of change,” White said.

Backing the bill were the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, which are both teacher unions.

Legislators and lobbyists in the hall outside the hearing room said earlier that supporters of Common Core had the votes in the House to block the legislation if it had moved out of committee.

The second measure was sponsored by state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie. It was aimed at prohibiting the use of the national Common Core test, called PARCC.

That vote was also seven in favor and 12 opposed, with the same breakdown as the vote on HB381.