BESE votes to challenge Jindal on Common Core

In a pointed challenge to Gov. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s top school board Tuesday voted to join a lawsuit against the governor aimed at allowing Common Core tests to proceed as planned.

The vote was 6-4, with two of Jindal’s own appointees siding with the majority.

Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and a former Jindal ally, said one of the key issues in the legal challenge is BESE’s authority over test policies.

“They are going to be arguing the constitutional authority of BESE,” Roemer told colleagues. “We should be in the room when they do so.”

Opponents called the move a mistake and said the board should heed Jindal’s directive and come up with new tests.

“It is a travesty that we are faced with a lawsuit against the governor,” said Lottie Beebe, a BESE member who is also superintendent of the St. Martin Parish school system.

The vote authorizes BESE to join as an intervenor with parents and teachers who filed a lawsuit last week in 19th Judicial District Court.

That legal challenge says the Jindal administration’s suspension of key state contracts for tests on Common Core is illegal and should be lifted.

An Aug. 18 hearing has been set to review efforts to overturn the contract suspension.

The vote on Tuesday was in sharp contrast to a six-hour hearing on July 1, when BESE voted to hire special legal counsel but left specific action up in the air.

This time the key issue was resolved in an hour, with backers arguing that repeated efforts to reach agreement had failed to produce results, including a face-to-face meeting with Jindal and state Superintendent of Education John White.

The law firm that will handle BESE’s intervention is Preis Gordon APLC, of Baton Rouge.

The work is supposed to be done without charge.

In a prepared statement, Jindal said BESE’s vote to remain in Common Core and a testing consortium “conflicts with Louisiana state policy and is part of an effort to federalize our state’s education system.”

Judith Miranti, who lives in New Orleans and is one of Jindal’s three appointees on the board, backed the vote to join the lawsuit against the governor and said he forced the action with his anti-Common Core orders.

Connie Bradford, who lives in Ruston and is another Jindal appointee, also voted with the majority.

Jindal’s most recent appointee, Jane Smith, of Bossier City, opposed the action.

BESE’s authority to join the lawsuit may come under challenge.

Liz Murrill, executive counsel for Jindal’s Division of Administration, said the board’s contract to hire pro bono legal counsel has to be approved by her office.

White and Roemer said Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols rejected that request, which Nichols disputes.

White said a court ruling on efforts to allow test plans to proceed through a preliminary injunction is crucial.

However, Murrill said the court case could easily continue until December or next year. “This is not moving quickly,” she said.

Voting to join the pro-Common Core lawsuit were Holly Boffy, of Youngsville; Connie Bradford, of Ruston; Jim Garvey, of Metairie; Judith Miranti, of New Orleans; Kira Orange Jones, of New Orleans and Chas Roemer, of Baton Rouge.

Voting against were Lottie Beebe, of Breaux Bridge; Carolyn Hill, of Baton Rouge; Walter Lee, of Mansfield; and Jane Smith, of Bossier City.

Jay Guillot, of Ruston, missed the meeting.

In another development, the Jindal administration announced that it is filing a lawsuit aimed at invalidating the state’s agreement with the consortium of states that prepared Common Core tests.

It is the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, known as PARCC.

Jindal is one of three state officials that signed the agreement in 2010.

But Jimmy Faircloth, who is handling the legal challenge, said the governor now has a better understanding of issues surrounding Common Core.

Faircloth said the agreement improperly delegates the constitutional authority of BESE and the Legislature to a group of other states.

The legal action is part of the same lawsuit that BESE voted to intervene in on Tuesday.

White told reporters that the work of the consortium is largely done, that Louisiana can use Common Core tests of its choosing and that the lawsuit would have little impact.

Asked if the timing of the legal challenge was designed to undercut BESE’s vote Roemer said, “Absolutely, absolutely. It is called Politics 101.”

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.