Aug. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal sued the U.S. Education Department, claiming it’s unconstitutionally coercing states into adopting national curriculum standards for elementary and secondary education.
The federal government has “hijacked” the Common Core initiative, a set of academic measures in math and English language arts and literacy, forcing states to adopt its preferred tests or put billions of dollars at risk, Jindal said today in a statement. A complaint was filed in federal court in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“Common Core is about controlling curriculum,” Jindal said. “Educators know that what’s tested is what’s taught.”
The Common Core State Standards Initiative was developed in response to concerns about U.S. academic performance and competitiveness with other countries. The standards have been adopted by more than 40 states and the District of Columbia. They have drawn support from Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
States that adopt the standards qualify for grants from President Barack Obama’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program. States can also waive accountability requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 in exchange for adopting Common Core.
Critics argue the program amounts to a federal takeover of education, prompting some states to halt or delay implementation.
Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Nebraska and Virginia are among states that rejected it, some after joining. Missouri and North Carolina joined and are re-examining the standards with the goal of improving or replacing them.
Jindal’s suit is “very blatantly about politics,” said Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research organization.
“It’s thrown education in his state into a tailspin,” she said. “It’s got to be absolutely terrible for the teachers and students.”
The complaint follows a Louisiana state court judge’s rejection of the governor’s attempt to delay the state’s participation through executive action.
Judge Todd Hernandez in Baton Rouge granted the request of a New Orleans charter school group and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to temporarily disallow Jindal’s suspension of a testing contract between the board and a consortium of states associated with Common Core, the Times-Picayune reported Aug. 19.
Kyle Plotkin, Jindal’s chief of staff, said in an Aug. 19 statement that the governor plans to appeal, accusing the judge of adopting pro-Common Core arguments “hook, line and sinker.”
The standards initiative is an attempt by the federal government to implement national education reform beyond the intentions of Congress, Jindal said in the complaint filed today.
Common Core violates the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reserves to the states powers not specifically granted to the U.S. and thus limits the role of the federal government in education policy, according to the complaint.
Louisiana’s suit has little chance of success but may add to the increasingly critical views of Common Core, said Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute, a Washington organization that works for “individual liberty, free markets and constitutionally limited government,” according to its website.
“Polls have shown that you’ve gone from people not knowing what Common Core is to knowing and disapproving,” McCluskey said in a phone interview.
Courts tend to uphold the federal government when it encourages states with money while lacking specific constitutional authority, he said.
Coercion would be difficult to prove given “there is enough wiggle room where it’s not 100 percent clear that the federal government is dictating particular standards,” McCloskey said. “The reality is they’re dictating standards.”
Jindal is seeking a court order barring the Education Department from penalizing states that refuse to participate in the initiative from receiving federal dollars.
Common Core’s standards, completed in 2010 by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, set goals for students at the end of each year. In math, for example, they call for speed and accuracy in single-digit multiplication in grades three to five.
The case is Jindal v. U.S. Department of Education, 14-cv-00534, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Louisiana (Baton Rouge).
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