Gov. Jindal asks federal judge to remove Common Core from Louisiana schools

Gov. Bobby Jindal urged a federal judge Wednesday to do what two Baton Rouge state judges have recently refused to do — derail the Common Core train in Louisiana.

Jindal filed a lawsuit in Baton Rouge federal court against the Obama administration, accusing it of illegally manipulating federal grant money and regulations to coerce states to adopt the Common Core academic standards and accompanying tests.

The governor, in a court-filed memorandum, accuses the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan of “commandeering Louisiana’s educational system.”

“The federal government has hijacked and destroyed the Common Core initiative,” the governor said in a statement. “Common Core is the latest effort by big government disciples to strip away state rights and put Washington, D.C., in control of everything.”

Jindal’s action comes one week after a state judge paved the way for Common Core tests that the governor is trying to block. He wants to remove Louisiana from Common Core and the exams that go with the new academic goals in reading, writing and math.

Backers say the overhaul will improve student achievement.

Jindal’s suit, assigned to U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, asks the judge to declare the Department of Education’s actions unconstitutional and to keep it from disqualifying states from receiving Race to the Top funds based on a refusal to use Common Core or to participate in one of the testing consortia.

The Department of Education has used a $4.3 billion grant program and federal policy waivers to encourage states to adopt uniform education standards and testing.

Jindal claims the federal government “effectively forces states down a path toward a national curriculum” in violation of the state sovereignty clause in the Constitution and federal laws that prohibit national control of education content.

The Common Core standards are math and English benchmarks describing what students should know after completing each grade. They were developed by states to allow comparison of students’ performance. More than 40 states, including Louisiana, have adopted them.

Lindsey Burke, an education fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said Wednesday that national standards will inevitably strengthen federal power over education, weaken schools’ direct accountability to parents and taxpayers, and “more likely result in the standardization of mediocrity rather than establishing standards of excellence.”

When the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted the Common Core standards in 2010, Jindal supported them, saying they would help students to better prepare for college and careers. He reversed course earlier this year, however, and now says he opposes the standards because they are an effort by the Obama administration to meddle in state education policy.

The governor’s change of heart is not shared by all lawmakers, BESE and his hand-picked education superintendent, all of whom refuse to jettison Common Core from Louisiana’s classrooms.

“The cost of the suit against the federal government is a waste of the Louisiana taxpayers’ money,” BESE attorney Phil Preis said. “Jindal needs to pay for the lawsuit from his campaign funds because if you sue the federal government you can be assured it will be expensive.”

State Department of Education spokesman Barry Landry said the Common Core state standards have been fundamental expectations in Louisiana for four years “because our kids are just as smart and capable as any in America.”

“The courts have ruled, and it is time to move on,” he said.

Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, added that Jindal’s “relentless attack on Common Core just continues to create uncertainty for teachers and parents, which is bound to have an impact on students.”

“From CABL’s perspective this certainly looks like a frivolous lawsuit that’s geared more toward publicity than substance,” Erwin said. “Given the fact that absolutely everything related to Common Core, the testing consortium and Race to the Top was voluntary, it’s hard to imagine a judge concluding that it was really a federal scheme to nationalize curricula.”

Jindal tried to derail use of the standards in June by suspending testing contracts, but state District Judge Todd Hernandez lifted that suspension on Aug. 19, calling the governor’s actions harmful to parents, teachers and students.

Several days earlier, state District Judge Tim Kelley denied a request from 17 state lawmakers to block the ongoing implementation of Common Core. The legislators had sued BESE and the Education Department, claiming the board and department should have followed the Administrative Procedures Act, which would have allowed crucial public input on the revised academic standards before BESE gave its approval.

Duncan, a defendant in Jindal’s suit, has criticized the governor’s opposition to Common Core as politically driven. In a June interview with “CBS This Morning,” the education secretary said of Jindal’s switched position: “It’s about politics, it’s not about education.”

The Obama administration embraced the standards and encouraged states to adopt them as part of the application process for the Race to the Top grant program. Two state testing consortia — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — received $330 million from the grant program to develop standardized testing material tied to Common Core.

“According to BESE, participation in PARCC is voluntary and the state and local districts retain their authority over curriculum and assessments. BESE has been and continues to be misled,” Jindal’s suit claims.

“Louisiana now finds itself trapped in a federal scheme to nationalize curriculum. What started as good state intentions has materialized into the federalization of education policy through federal economic incentives and duress,” the suit alleges.

Louisiana has received more than $17 million from Race to the Top and joined the PARCC consortium. Roughly half of those funds went directly to local school districts, the governor’s suit says.

“Although the funding was greatly needed, the loss of state and local authority over education curricula and assessment policy is unmeasurable and irreparable,” the suit contends.