BATON ROUGE — Louisiana's state school board on Tuesday jumped into a lawsuit that accuses Gov. Bobby Jindal of illegally meddling in education policy with his efforts to block Common Core education standards.
In a related development, Jindal counter-sued Tuesday, seeking to invalidate Louisiana's participation in the Common Core-related testing consortium.
The 6-4 vote from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, known as BESE, was a stunning decision by a board that traditionally has been allied with the Republican governor on education initiatives.
Two of Jindal's three education board appointees agreed to sue the governor, ensuring the board will join the lawsuit filed by parents, teachers and a charter school organization that support Common Core.
"The school year is about to begin, and the quickest path to resolution is for the board to enter the lawsuit filed by parents and teachers. The essence of that lawsuit is BESE's constitutional role in setting education policy in the state," said board President Chas Roemer.
At issue is Jindal's suspension of state testing contracts the Department of Education intended to use to buy testing material aligned with Common Core. The lawsuit claims Jindal's actions are unconstitutional, trying to usurp the Legislature's authority to set education policy and BESE's implementation authority.
Education board member Lottie Beebe, superintendent of St. Martin Parish schools and a Common Core critic, voted
against joining the lawsuit.
"Suing the governor? We're a laughingstock," she said.
"We're gambling with our children's future. We're saying that the Common Core standards are wonderful. How do we know?"
The Common Core standards, grade-by-grade benchmarks of what students should learn in English and math, have been adopted by more than 40 states.
Jindal, a one-time Common Core supporter, now opposes the standards as a federal intrusion into local education. But a majority of board members and Education Superintendent John White still support the standards.
In June, when he suspended the testing contracts, Jindal said the education department didn't follow state procurement law. But he also acknowledged he took the action to disrupt Louisiana's use of the Common Core standards and a multi-state testing consortium known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.
"We remain hopeful that BESE members will reconsider their commitment to PARCC and Common Core and the federal commitments that come with it," Jindal said in a statement Tuesday.
White and Roemer disagreed on the procurement issue and said Jindal overstepped his legal authority.
The contract suspension has stalled standardized testing plans for students in third-grade through eighth-grade with the school year starting in about two weeks. White said he'll bring the education board a student testing proposal by the end of August.
The legal filing in Jindal's counter-suit says the consortium agreement — which the governor signed in 2010 — violates state sovereignty by having a private, non-Louisiana entity set education policy.
White said the consortium involved several states receiving a grant to develop test questions. He said the grant runs out in September, Louisiana doesn't have to use the test questions and the governor's challenge is moot because the consortium's work is done.