A group of parents, teachers and a foundation that runs charter schools filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) lacks the authority to withdraw his state from the Common Core national academic standards.
“We think the governor has overstepped his bounds and doesn’t have any right to do this,” said Stephen H. Kupperman, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs. “We don’t want to hold the children of the state hostage to somebody’s political ambitions.”
Jindal, a possible 2016 presidential contender, was once a strong backer of the Common Core State Standards, which spell out the skills and knowledge every U.S. student should possess in math and reading from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Jindal was an early supporter of the standards, lauding them as a way to “raise expectations for every child” in a pro-Common Core ad made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
But as the standards came under fire from critics — particularly tea party groups — Jindal’s support dissolved.
The governor unsuccessfully lobbied the Louisiana state legislature to abandon the standards, which are scheduled to be fully implemented when the new school year begins next month.
In June, Jindal announced he was unilaterally withdrawing Louisiana from the standards. He said he wanted state officials to develop “Louisiana standards and Louisiana tests for Louisiana students.”
That sparked an intramural feud with the state board of education and John White, the state superintendent of education, both strong supporters of the Common Core standards. White said Louisiana would stay the course and that he intended to purchase new state assessments aligned with the Common Core.
Jindal responded by blocking the procurement.
The standoff “has really created chaos in education in the state,” Kupperman said. The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction that would stop Jindal from interfering in the implementation of the standards and the procurement of new tests, he said. A district court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4 in East Baton Rouge.
Through a spokesman, Jindal said the lawsuit has “no merit” and that state law gives him the responsibility to oversee contracting: “The Governor’s Office has the responsibility to ensure the laws of the state are faithfully executed.”
The Common Core State Standards were created by a bipartisan group of governors and chief state school officers as a way to inject some consistency into academic standards, which have long varied wildly across states. The formulation of the standards was largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The standards are not curriculum, as states and local school districts decide how to teach them and what materials to use.
Jim Swanson, chairman of the Choice Foundation, which runs three K-8 public charter schools in New Orleans, said Jindal’s change of heart has wreaked havoc among teachers and students, who are now unsure what will be taught next month and what tests students will take.
“We devoted a great deal of energy in embracing and adopting the Common Core standards,” Swanson said. “We spent a lot of money on professional development, materials and software to make sure our kids were learning the standards in the best possible way. ... We believe these standards do a great job in identifying what concepts our kids should learn.”
Swanson recalled how Jindal held a press conference at one of his charter schools two years ago to promote the Common Core. “Approximately a month ago, Gov. Jindal announced he changed his mind on the standards,” Swanson said. “We are now unclear what standards our kids are supposed to be able to achieve at the end of this school year, unclear what test will be administered to them that will decide whether they get promoted to the next grade. It has thrown the system into disarray. It’s a very irresponsible action.”
The Black Alliance for Educational Options, which has worked closely with the Jindal administration to promote public charter schools and public vouchers for private schools, has split with Jindal over the Common Core and joined the suit as a plaintiff.
Jindal has said he changed his mind about the Common Core because he came to see it as a federal takeover of local education, even though the impetus came from the states and the federal government had no official role.
The Obama administration does, however, support the Common Core and gave $360 million to the group of states that are writing new Common Core tests. It also used Race to the Top, its competitive grant program, as an inducement, saying that states adopting “college and career ready” standards had a better chance of winning federal dollars under the program. Most states understood that phrase to mean the Common Core.