Common Core test bill rejected by La. lawmakers

Opponents say measure was attempt to derail implementation

In a setback for Common Core critics, a Louisiana House committee rejected a bill Monday that would require the approval of a key legislative panel before the state finalizes its contract for tests that go with the overhaul.

The vote in the House Appropriations Committee was 10 in favor and 12 opposed.

Backers said the measure, House Bill 380, would ensure financial oversight before state officials sign off on exams crafted by a consortium called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

The legislation would require that the contract be reviewed by the influential Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

“All we are asking for is fiscal oversight,” said state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles and a top critic of Common Core and test plans.

“It just requires a legislative vote of some kind,” Geymann told the panel.

Opponents argued the change would threaten four years of test preparations, and cost local school districts vast sums of money if the state decided to switch plans.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said every school district in the state has taken steps to get ready for the tests, which are set to start in earnest for students in grades three through eight during the 2014-15 school year.

“They have spent millions of dollars to prepare for PARCC,” Smith said.

Common Core represents new standards in reading, writing and math that have been adopted by Louisiana and 42 other states, and the merits of the new classroom goals have sparked arguments in Louisiana and other states for months.

Opponents of the education shakeup have changed much of their focus to the accompanying exams in a bid to slow or undo the changes.

Under current plans, the state would enter into a contract for the tests through the state Department of Education and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Geymann said that, since any such agreement would be a sole source contract, it cries out for legislative oversight before any deal is finalized.

State Treasurer John Kennedy, who filled out a neutral card before testifying, said Geymann’s proposal makes sense.

“This to me is about dollars and cents,” Kennedy said. “It’s not about picking on the Department of Education.”

But state Superintendent of Education John White repeated his view that Geymann’s bill is so sweeping that it would trigger chaos in Louisiana’s state and local education systems.

White said the legislation also would force committee approval of numerous other exams routinely administered for years, including the ACT that assesses college readiness, and apply to other state agencies as well that do tests of their own.

He said it also would leave thousands of teachers in the dark about which tests their students would face during the next school year after years of planning for PARCC exams.

“I am asking you to consider the real-world implications,” White said.

The superintendent also said the latest cost estimate for the PARCC exam is $24 per student compared with the $30 paid for LEAP, which fourth- and eighth-graders took for years.

Other opponents said Geymann’s bill went far beyond just financial oversight, and would leave the state without a Common Core test if the budget panel rejected the PARCC tests.

“This bill is more about death by delay than fiscal oversight,” said Brigitte Nieland, who follows public school issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

Proponents of Common Core say the new standards will improve student achievement and better prepare students. Opponents say the new guidelines represent federal meddling in local school issues.

The vote marks the third setback for critics of Common Core-related issues.

A separate committee earlier rejected bills to scrap the standards and to drop plans for the PARCC exams.

Geymann initially proposed a ban on the use of state funds for PARCC unless such spending was authorized by law.

He successfully offered an amendment Monday to require that the joint budget committee approve any such contract, and he repeatedly said he did not want his proposal to turn into a Common Core debate.

Critics of the standards and testing plans may try to reopen arguments when the House debates the proposed $25 billion operating budget on Thursday.

In addition, Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he thinks he has the option of unilaterally pulling Louisiana out of its testing plans if lawmakers fail to act.

White and others dispute that view.

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