Jindal loses appeal on Common Core lawsuit in state court

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BATON ROUGE — A Louisiana appeals court Wednesday upheld a judge’s ruling that barred Gov. Bobby Jindal from suspending testing contracts tied to Louisiana’s use of the Common Core education standards.

A three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal said Jindal’s attempt to halt the testing contracts was an “unconstitutional interference” with the education department and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, known as BESE.

A year ago, Jindal suspended the contracts, saying the education department and BESE didn’t properly follow Louisiana’s procurement law in the contract award. Parents, teachers and a charter school organization sued, and the state education board joined in the suit.

In August, District court Judge Todd Hernandez lifted Jindal’s contract suspension and said the Jindal administration didn’t provide any evidence to support the governor’s claims that contracting law was violated. Common Core standardized testing for students in third through eighth grade continued as planned in the spring.

Hernandez’s decision was upheld Wednesday by the appeals court.

The Jindal administration’s accusations “regarding state procurement law were a mere pretext to cloak their true intent to influence education policy in Louisiana, over which the Louisiana Constitution grants exclusive authority to the Legislature and BESE,” Judge John Pettigrew wrote in the decision.

Lawyer Jimmy Faircloth, representing the governor, said Jindal “strongly disagrees with the ruling” and will appeal. He said the governor has “clear statutory authority” to suspend a contract when procurement laws are not followed.

“The governor will appeal because of the troubling precedent that it creates for the administration of state government,” Faircloth said.

The Common Core standards are benchmarks of what students should learn at each grade level in English and math. They’ve been adopted by more than 40 states as a way to better prepare students for college and careers. Opponents, including Jindal, say the standards are developmentally inappropriate and part of federal efforts to nationalize education.

When he suspended the testing contracts in June 2014, Jindal argued the education department and BESE needed to seek competitive bids for the work. But he also acknowledged he took the action to undermine Common Core and Louisiana’s use of testing material from a consortium tied to the multistate standards.

Jindal, a likely presidential contender who once supported Common Core, has a separate, pending federal lawsuit challenging the education standards. He’s tried to strip the standards from Louisiana’s public school classrooms. But lawmakers, Superintendent of Education John White and the state education board have refused to do so.

Rather than prohibit use of Common Core, the Legislature recently required a review of the standards with public meetings, legislative oversight and an up-or-down vote from Louisiana’s next governor.

The education board on Wednesday confirmed the 101 people who will serve on the committees to comb through the standards. The review panels — which include teachers, administrators, higher education officials and parents — must present final recommendations on what changes they want made to the standards by March 2016.

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