Igniting new controversy, Gov. Bobby Jindal said Wednesday he is ordering Louisiana out of the Common Core tests as part of a series of moves to drop the new academic standards after the Legislature refused to do so.
“We need to start this process over,” Jindal told reporters.
But state Superintendent of Education John White, who Jindal pushed for the job, took the unusual step of publicly charging that the governor is wrong on the law and that Common Core plans will continue for the 2014-15 school year.
“Our interpretation happens to be the right one,” White said.
Even late Wednesday a key Jindal lieutenant, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, announced action that could submarine plans by White to proceed with test plans.
The latest developments escalated an already hotly-debated topic that has sparked intense arguments for months, and which easily ranks as the most debated public school issue here in years.
Common Core represents new academic standards in reading, writing and math, and it has been adopted by more than 40 states.
But Jindal, who says the school goals are riddled with federal interference, announced that he has;
- Sent a letter to officials of the consortium developing the exams — it is called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC — informing the group that Louisiana is withdrawing.
- Ordered the state Department of Education to competitive bids for new assessments.
- Directed the department and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to come up with new standards to replace Common Core.
“It is no secret that I am opposed to Common Core,” Jindal said. “It is also no secret that many parents are opposed.”
The governor’s announcement marks the first victory for Common Core opponents in months, especially after the Legislature rejected repeated attempts to scrap the standards, write new ones and toss the test plans.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, called BESE, endorsed Common Core in 2010 and reaffirmed that support earlier this year.
Jindal said that, while the board is created by the state Constitution, “they are still subject to Louisiana laws. They have not followed the state bid laws in the process. They are going to have to start over and actually follow the law.”
But White repeatedly disputed the governor’s views.
The superintendent and his office said withdrawing from the Common Core tests needs the approval of White, Jindal and Chas Roemer, president of BESE, which sets policies for about 700,000 public school students statewide.
White’s camp also said that, contrary to Jindal’s view, he lacks the authority to merely send a letter to the National Governors Association and the Council for Chief State Officers withdrawing from the standards.
Both groups were instrumental in drafting the standards.
White said his agency has followed state bid laws, and plans to use an existing state contract that covers tests for students in grades 3-8 to proceed with the exams developed by PARCC.
But a few hours later Nichols took the unusual step of announcing that the state was immediately suspending approval of the contract that White cited, pending review by the Office of Contractural Review.
“The Department of Education has suggested it has unlimited authority to use a state contract, paid for by taxpayers, for a purpose for which it was not intended,” Nichols said in a prepared statement.
The contract has been in place since 2003. The state has used it for LEAP and other standardized assessments.
White said Wednesday evening that he needs to see details of the suspension and have time for attorneys to review its impact.
Despite the high-profile dispute Jindal said he retains his confidence in White, who the governor pushed for months before he was hired by BESE.
Jindal said he and White simply have a fundamental disagreement.
White noted that he has worked with the governor on a wide range of other public school issues. “We just happen to have a different interpretation of the law on this issue,” he said.
Longtime Common Core critics praised the governor’s announcement.
“I am thrilled, I am excited, I think the governor did the right thing today,” said state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles.
But state Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, whose Common Core bill was vetoed by Jindal last week, noted that the Legislature upheld the standards and accompanying exams in a three-month session that ended on June 2. “I see it as executive overreach and I question the legality of his actions,” Leger said.
Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, also criticized the governor.
“I think it was really good for the headlines, it was really good for making a bold statement,” Erwin said. “But I don’t know that it changes the direction we are headed at the end of the day.”
In related action Jindal:
- Suspended the rules adopted by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from May 2014 to, in his view, ensure that the Louisiana Department of Education is able to comply with Louisiana competitive bid law;
- Instructed the Division of Administration to conduct a comprehensive accounting of all Louisiana expenditures and resources on PARCC, what services or products have been received in return for such expenditures, and copies of all contracts in place or in negotiation for the purchase of an assessment;
- Issued a Request for Information to PARCC requesting information about the procurement processes utilized by the consortium, by the Fiscal Agent state, and by the Lead Procurement State to ensure that these processes complied with Louisiana law;
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