Meeting yields no Common Core consensus

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s much-anticipated meeting with state Superintendent of Education John White failed to produce any breakthrough Thursday in the heated battle over Common Core.

Jindal, who did not speak with reporters afterward, repeated his view that White and the state Department of Education have to follow proper procedures in exam plans for the upcoming school year.

“I made it clear to Superintendent White that it is important for the Louisiana Department of Education to follow the law,” the governor said in a prepared statement.

“Procurement law is designed to protect taxpayers and it must be followed,” according to the statement.

White said the key problem is whether education leaders only should come up with test questions, which he favors, or whether a team that includes Jindal’s office and others should drive test preparations.

“I am humbled by the challenge of resolving the conflict,” he told reporters Thursday evening.

The governor, who wants to get rid of Common Core and the tests that go with it, has repeatedly accused White’s state Department of Education of failing to follow state rules in test preparation plans for the 2014-15 school year.

White, who backs Common Core and state test plans, disputes those charges.

The meeting stemmed from a request by the state’s top school board that White and Jindal meet personally to try to work out differences.

The gathering, which took place at the Governor’s Mansion, included White, Jindal and Kyle Plotkin, the governor’s chief of staff.

Plotkin, in a conference call with reporters, said Jindal told White that, in light of Louisiana’s history of corruption, following state procurement laws is crucial.

White said he has no disagreement on any legal requirements.

The key stumbling block, he said, is the insistence by Jindal, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and others that the state come up with a new testing contract for the 2014-15 school year with input from a wide range of state officials, not just the state Department of Education and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

White said it boils down to “who has the ability to determine what questions are on the tests.”

Under plans in the works since 2010, students starting next month are supposed to work under new academic standards in reading, writing and math that are aimed at improving student achievement and better preparing them for college and careers.

Part of the focus is to offer more in-depth learning on fewer topics and to force students to think critically in exams that allow for state-to-state comparisons.

On Wednesday, three BESE leaders said they would conditionally go along with Jindal’s request for the state to come up with new assessments for the upcoming school year.

However, the dispute over how those test questions are arrived at is posing huge questions on the eve of the school year.

“We need action quickly,” White said.

What happens next is unclear.

White on Friday is required to report results of Thursday’s meeting to the 11-member state board.

BESE voted 6-3 earlier this month to hire special legal counsel to press ahead with test plans, but that avenue also is muddled.

BESE President Chas Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge, said earlier this week that Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office has approved Preis Gordon APLC, in Baton Rouge, to do the work without charge.

However, the hiring may require the approval of Jindal’s Division of Administration.

Even before the late-afternoon meeting, new controversy swirled around the issue.

In a two-page report, the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana blamed Jindal for much of the bickering.

“This was a crisis of choice and the clearest responsibility for it lies with the governor,” according to the report.

“This mess is potentially significant enough to damage the national profile of the state,” PAR said.

The review also singled out the Jindal administration for what it called uneven oversight of state contracts.

It said that, while the administration has routinely approved state testing contracts for years, sudden concerns have been raised about the exams overseen by White’s state Department of Education.

“His sudden zeal for competitive bidding is welcome but apparently is selective,” the PAR review said of Jindal.

Meanwhile, three members of BESE criticized three of their colleagues, who on Wednesday offered the proposal to Jindal that they said could address the Common Core test controversy.

The criticism was leveled by Jane Smith, of Bossier City; Lottie Beebe, of Breaux Bridge; and Carolyn Hill, of Baton Rouge.

It was aimed at Roemer; Jim Garvey, of Metairie; and Holly Boffy, of Youngsville.

Smith, Beebe and Hill said they found it offensive that three of their colleagues would offer a “compromise” on the test dispute without including their colleagues or holding a special meeting.

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