The Jindal administration has renewed charges that Common Core tests plans pushed by top state education leaders may be illegal.
But an attorney for the state’s top school board Friday denounced the latest comments and charged that the attorney who spelled them out in a letter violated legal ethics rules.
The exchanges are the latest in the long-running and often bitter fight over how students will be quizzed on the new academic standards.
The issue has been largely dormant since August, when 19th Judicial District Court Judge Todd Hernandez sided with Education Superintendent John White and other Common Core backers against Gov. Bobby Jindal, who opposes the overhaul and the tests.
White said then that, based on the judge’s ruling, the state would proceed with plans to test students in grades 3-8 linked to questions from a consortium known as PARCC, and using a state contract with Data Recognition Corp.
However, the office of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, a key Jindal lieutenant, said in a Dec. 4 letter to White — which was copied to members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education — that comments made by White to a BESE committee Tuesday raise more questions about exam plans.
“Please be advised that if test questions or services are procured in violation of state procurement law, (Data Recognition Corp.) may be subject to a recoupment of monies paid,” said a letter signed by Scott D. Johnson, general counsel for Nichols’ office.
“This may, in turn, create legal liability for BESE or (Louisiana Department of Education) in addition to the possible civil or criminal penalties if the state’s procurement laws are found to have been violated,” Johnson wrote.
The letter contends that the two existing state contracts do not allow the state to obtain PARCC test questions.
It also urges Chas Roemer, president of BESE, and the panel’s 10 other members to ensure that the Department of Education “follows the state’s procurement laws.”
In a letter to Johnson dated Friday, Preis Gordon, whose Baton Rouge firm was hired by BESE to handle the litigation, said the correspondence “appears to be a heavy-handed effort by the Division of Administration to derail the upcoming year-end assessments for the 2014-15 school year.”
The letter said the Hernandez ruling, which was attached, enjoined the Division of Administration from interfering with the tests or suspending the Data Recognition contracts.
Gordon’s letter also said that, under rules of professional conduct, lawyers are barred from communicating with those involved in the lawsuit, including Roemer, unless they have the permission of the board’s attorney or a court order.
In a telephone interview, Nichols called Gordon’s ethics allegations “absurd.”
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