Common Core target of lawsuit by 17 state lawmakers

In Louisiana’s first major legal action attacking Common Core, 17 state lawmakers filed a lawsuit Monday to halt implementation of the hotly debated academic standards.

The challenge, which was filed in the 19th Judicial District Court, contends that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the state Department of Education failed to follow the Administrative Procedures Act, which critics say was a required step that would have allowed crucial public input.

“It is a valid question on whether an agency can have a significant change without following the administrative process,” said state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, one of the plaintiffs and also one of the leaders of the anti-Common Core forces in the Legislature.

But state Superintendent of Education John White and Chas Roemer, president of BESE, said the lawsuit is off the mark because education officials were not required to do what Geymann and others are alleging.

“There is no legal basis for their claim whatsoever,” White said in a hastily arranged conference call with reporters.

The lawsuit was assigned to 19th Judicial District Judge Tim Kelley, of Baton Rouge.

It says the issue is urgent since public schools start in a few weeks, and the lawmakers asked for a temporary injunction to block the rollout of Common Core.

The new standards in reading, writing and math are supposed to take effect for the 2014-15 school year, with assessments scheduled for next spring.

However, Gov. Bobby Jindal is embroiled in a bitter battle with White, his agency and BESE on whether to scrap Common Core and the exams that go with it.

The lawsuit filed on Monday afternoon is focused on details of how BESE adopted the standards in 2010.

The lawmakers contend that the action violated the Louisiana Administrative Procedures Act.

They charged that the proposed rules should have been published in the Louisiana Register, as other revised school standards were handled, and time given for public input before BESE finalized the action.

White countered that state law requires the Department of Education to establish content standards and for BESE to approve them.

“It says nothing about regulations or a required Administrative Procedures Act,” according to documents released by the agency.

White said the action was in line with the way the board handles most issues.

Roemer said the lawsuit “just seems like another measure to slow us down, to bog us down.

“The premise of their complaint is false,” he said.

The firm handling the case is Bolen, Parker, Brenner, Lee & Engelsman LTD, of Alexandria.

Geymann declined to say how the lawsuit is being financed.

Others who joined the challenge include Republican state Reps. Cameron Henry, of Metairie, Joe Harrison, of Napoleonville, Barry Ivey, of Central, John Schroder, of Covington, and Lenar Whitney, of Houma.

Jindal said in a prepared statement that, while his office was not involved in the action, “we support these and other efforts by legislators to ensure the law is followed.”

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a 2015 candidate for governor, accused Jindal of “huge executive overreach” in his recent efforts to derail the standards.

Dardenne, in an interview, noted that the Legislature earlier this year considered but rejected efforts to scrap Common Core.

He said Jindal’s action to scrap the standards and test plans is “way out of line” since school is about to start.

Roemer said BESE plans to ask on Monday or Tuesday for clearance from the Jindal administration to hire pro bono counsel and determine whether educators or state budget officials have the final say on test questions.

He said a special board meeting is likely, and BESE approval would be needed for any legal challenge.

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