Common Core backers want Gov. Jindal to testify

Parents and teachers who back Common Core asked a judge Tuesday to allow their lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal to move forward and to let them question the governor under oath about his decision to order the state away from the academic standards and companion tests.

“We have a lot of questions for the governor. I want the governor under oath. He is a party to this,” Stephen Kupperman, an attorney for the parents and teachers, told state District Judge Todd Hernandez during the first hearing in the suit.

But Jimmy Faircloth, who represents Jindal, argued that the plaintiffs cannot take Jindal’s deposition because he has been sued in his official capacity as governor.

“They cannot take the testimony of a sitting governor in a suit where his official capacity is challenged,” Faircloth told the judge.

Hernandez took those arguments under advisement, as well as arguments over whether the plaintiffs have a right to sue in the first place.

The plaintiffs are four parents from Orleans Parish, two from East Baton Rouge Parish, one from Jefferson Parish, two teachers and the Choice Foundation, which manages three charter schools in New Orleans. The defendants are Jindal, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and the interim director of the Office of Contractual Review.

Wendell Clark, an attorney for Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and the Office of Contractual Review, argued Tuesday that the parents and teachers have no legal standing to challenge the Division of Administration’s oversight of Common Core contracts.

Clark also argued the plaintiffs are not a party to the contracts in question.

“They can’t have greater rights than the parties to the contract,” he told the judge.

Kupperman countered by saying it is “fairly astounding” to argue that parents and teachers have no right to challenge actions that threaten their children and students.

Kupperman noted that one of the plaintiff parents has a child in the fourth grade, what he called a “high-stakes testing year.”

“How do (fourth-graders) move on (to the fifth grade) if there is no testing?” he asked.

Kupperman also argued that the suspension of Common Core testing “impacts the teachers’ entire profession.”

If Hernandez allows the case to proceed, another hearing is scheduled for Monday on the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction against the state.

Jindal filed court papers in the suit last week urging Hernandez to bar Louisiana education officials from using Common Core tests in the state’s public schools.

Common Core is a series of standards in reading, writing and math that students are supposed to learn each year. The key dispute is what standardized tests will be given to students in the spring.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and state Superintendent of Education John White contend the choice of exams is up to BESE.

BESE has intervened in the suit, and BESE attorney Phil Preis told Hernandez that the plaintiffs are aligned with BESE.

Clark argued that BESE does not have unlimited authority over public education in the state.

Jindal and his allies are trying to derail BESE’s plans to use tests aligned to Common Core and crafted by a federally-funded consortium of states.

The parents and teachers who sued the governor say the state Constitution gives clear authority to the Legislature and BESE to set and carry out education policy.

Jindal contends BESE and the state Department of Education failed to follow state procurement law in planning for the Common Core test contract.

Kupperman told Hernandez the procurement law argument a “subterfuge.”

“All of this procurement (talk) is simply a pretense to get us out of Common Core and PARCC,” he argued.

PARCC is the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a testing consortium aligned with Common Core. The governor claims Louisiana’s agreement with PARCC is an illegal attempt to federalize education in the state.

In June, Jindal ordered the state out of Common Core and the assessments that are supposed to accompany it, starting with the 2014-15 school year. Key state testing contracts have been suspended.

The parents and teachers who filed the suit accuse Jindal of illegally trying to derail the academic standards and companion tests.

Their suit was filed a day after 17 state lawmakers who oppose Common Core sued in a bid to scuttle the academic overhaul.

A hearing in the legislators’ suit is scheduled for Friday before state District Judge Tim Kelley.

Supporters say 45 states have adopted Common Core and that the new rules are needed to improve student achievement, especially in low-performing states like Louisiana.

Critics contend the standards are top heavy with federal influence, drive the curriculum and often include inappropriate materials.

School board members, teachers and others say Common Core academic goals are well in place after four years of planning.