Judge denies temporary Common Core injunction

With another legal skirmish on tap next week, Common Core supporters in Louisiana scored their second court victory in a three-day span Friday when a judge rejected a request from 17 state lawmakers to block the ongoing implementation of the academic standards.

State District Judge Tim Kelley, who called Common Core a “political hot button,” found the legislators failed to demonstrate at Friday’s preliminary injunction hearing a likelihood of success on the merits of their lawsuit filed last month against the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the state Department of Education.

Fellow 19th Judicial District Court Judge Todd Hernandez, in a ruling Wednesday, said a separate lawsuit by a group of parents and teachers challenging Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to order the state out of Common Core can move forward.

A preliminary injunction hearing in that case is set for Monday before Hernandez, who is being asked to lift the Jindal administration’s suspension of state test contracts on which Common Core advocates plan to rely. The governor is a defendant in the suit.

In the case before Kelley, the 17 lawmakers alleged BESE and the department should have followed the Administrative Procedures Act — which critics say was a required step that would have allowed crucial public input — and published the revised academic standards in the Louisiana Register before BESE finalized the action in 2010.

Kelley, after listening to arguments from attorneys for both sides and hearing directly from Superintendent of Education John White and BESE President Chas Roemer, denied the legislators’ request for a preliminary injunction but said they have the right to ask that the implementation of Common Core in the state be permanently enjoined.

“We’re going to discuss that,” state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, one of the plaintiffs in the lawmakers’ suit and also a leader of the anti-Common Core forces in the Legislature, said as he left the state courthouse in downtown Baton Rouge.

Kelley stressed that his ruling was not a comment on the merits of Common Core itself.

White and Roemer both stressed to reporters that the law is on their side.

“Today’s ruling allows teachers and students to continue raising expectations in Louisiana,” White said. “Our students are just as smart and capable as any in America. We’ve been working for four years to teach them to the highest standards in our country. Today’s ruling continues that progress.”

White said a ruling to the contrary would have been devastating to students, teachers and administrators.

“These are goals — they’re goals for our kids,” he said of the Common Core standards. “Undoing that would be a serious injustice.”

Roemer called the acrimony over Common Core a distraction to what is taking place in the classroom.

“I would like it to end,” he said.

Council for A Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin attended Friday’s hearing and was quick to respond to what he called Kelley’s “very strong and unequivocal” ruling.

“Even though this was only one ruling in one case, it’s good news for the parents, teachers and students of Louisiana who now know that this effort by a small group of legislators who oppose the higher academic standards in place in our schools will not disrupt the education of our children,” Erwin said.

“It is also worth noting that after weeks of vague allegations about wrongdoing by BESE and the Department of Education, the first case brought in an attempt to prove those allegations was all but slam dunked out of court,” he said.

The new standards in reading, writing and math are taking effect this school year, with assessments scheduled for next spring. Jindal in June ordered the state out of Common Core and the assessments that are supposed to accompany it. He maintains the standards are top heavy with federal influence.

While arguments continue over tests, the Common Core standards are entrenched in classrooms after four years of planning, educators have said. Superintendents in Central, Ascension, West Feliciana and other school districts said earlier this month that the standards are already in place, regardless of what exams are ultimately used to measure progress.

Most public schools began last week, and educators also have said they cannot afford to wait while legal and political arguments continue over tests.

Common Core backers say the standards are merely academic goals aimed at improving student achievement. Opponents contend the standards drive the curriculum and sap the authority of local school districts.

White testified concerning the legislators’ Administrative Procedures Act argument that, in 2010, Common Core was not a proposed rule that needed to be published in the Louisiana Register but was instead a set of content standards.

“It is a set of aspirational benchmarks,” he said.

Roemer testified that implementation of the new academic standards began immediately after their mid-2010 adoption.

Attorneys for BESE and the Education Department argued the legislators’ suit was filed two years too late.

“Most people didn’t even know it (Common Core) was adopted (by BESE) in 2010,” Geymann said outside the courthouse. He claims Common Core did not go through the legislative process like it should have.

Daniel Brenner, the legislators’ attorney, argued that Common Core was not properly adopted and implemented and asked Kelley to tell state education officials to “go back and do it right.”

Joan Hunt, who represents White and the Education Department, countered that undoing four years of work would harm teachers, administrators and schoolchildren.

White has said state law requires the department to establish content standards and for BESE to approve them.

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

Advocate staff writer Will Sentell contributed to this story.