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LFT tells BESE: Suspend high-stakes testing

BESE Report - July 2014 Special Meeting

Monaghan: Suspend "in fairness to the children who are riding through this uncertainty."

(Baton Rouge – July 29, 2014) Moments after the state’s highest education board voted today to sue Gov. Bobby Jindal for blocking the funds to pay for Common Core testing, LFT President Steve Monaghan urged the board to suspend high-stakes testing until the controversy is resolved.

Monaghan asked the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to “declare a moratorium on high-stakes testing next year, in fairness to the children who are riding through this uncertainty.”

“There is a lot of blame to share” for the current controversy,” Monaghan said, “but to be clear, none of the blame belongs to teachers or children. They are victims of the process. All they want is clarity.”

Judith Miranti, one of Gov. Jindal’s appointees to the board, asked about the ramifications of suspending tests. Superintendent of Education John White said that failing to administer the tests would jeopardize federal education funds, which make up a big portion of Louisiana’s education budget.

However, several other states have received waivers that allow them to continue receiving federal funds even though they are not in compliance with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Nothing stops BESE from requesting a waiver except for the toxic politics that threaten education this year.

Left undecided at the meeting is when teachers will know what testing instrument will be used to evaluate students this year.

Superintendent of Education John White asked the board for patience until the August 18 board meeting, when he said there may be some “clarity” about testing.

Division of Administration Attorney Elizabeth Murrill said that “it is a misplaced trust” to believe that anything will be settled by August 18. Legal issues surrounding Common Core and PARCC could take years to resolve, she said.

BESE votes to sue Jindal over Common Core testing

By a six-to-four margin, BESE voted to enter a lawsuit filed against Gov. Jindal for blocking funds to pay for the PARCC tests that accompany Common Core State Standards. Two of the members voting to sue the governor were his own appointees to the board, Judith Miranti and Connie Bradford.

Board President Chas Roemer urged filing suit because “we’ve exhausted all our attempts to negotiate” an agreement with the Jindal administration.

Last month, Jindal signed an executive forbidding BESE to spend money on the PARCC tests, a move that he said was a step toward removing Common Core from Louisiana. The governor said that BESE broke the state’s procurement law when it contracted for testing services without taking competitive bids.

In response, a coalition funded by the Black Alliance for Educational Options, usually a Jindal ally, filed a lawsuit claiming that Jindal overstepped his constitutional authority by blocking the PARCC funds. The coalition includes the New Orleans charter group Choice Foundation, along with some parents and teachers.

District 1 BESE Member Jim Garvey moved to enter the lawsuit, saying that it was necessary in order to preserve BESE’s constitutional role over education.

Members opposing the motion said that whether or not BESE enters the lawsuit, the courts will determine if the governor has the authority he claims.

“It is a travesty that we are facing a lawsuit against the governor,” said District 3 Member Lottie Beebe. “The courts will render a decision. Why do we have to go on record suing the governor?”

Adding to the confusion is the issue of whether or not BESE can file the suit without getting permission from Jindal’s Division of Administration.

DOA attorney Elizabeth Murrill told the board that the law prohibits it from hiring an attorney without permission, even though a lawyer has offered his services for free. Roemer’s response was a simple, “I disagree.”

Voting with Roemer, Garvey, Bradford and Miranti to sue the governor were District 2 member Kira Orange-Jones and District 7 Member Holly Boffy.

Opposed were Beebe, District 4 Member Walter Lee, District 8 Member Carolyn Hill and Jindal’s third appointee, Jane Smith. District 5 Member Jay Guillot was absent.

Legal score card: Who’s suing whom over what

Alexander the Great solved the puzzle of the Gordian knot by whacking it with a sword. It won’t be nearly as easy to sort out the legal issues rising out of Gov. Jindal’s recent conversion to the anti-Common Core camp.

It began on June 18, when Jindal signed an executive order prohibiting BESE from spending money on the PARCC tests for which it had contracted. The governor’s reasoning was that BESE broke state bid laws by not seeking requests for proposals for the testing services.

A group of legislative fiscal hawks piled on, filing suit against BESE for violating the state’s Administrative Procedures Act. Lawmakers claim that when BESE adopted Common Core standards in 2010, the board failed to publicly advertise the proposed rule for 90 days, as the APA requires.

Common Core supporters responded with a lawsuit filed by a New Orleans charter organization called the Choice Foundation and some parents and teachers. The suit, financed by the Black Alliance for Educational Options, claims that Jindal has no authority to block funding for PARCC because the State Constitution gives authority over education issues to the legislature and BESE. The administration, however, says the constitution gives the governor authority over state spending.

In the latest chapter, the Jindal administration today filed a countersuit against the BAEO group. The countersuit says that BESE’s Memorandum of Understanding with the PARCC testing consortium “offends state sovereignty.”

Jindal attorney Jimmy Faircloth said that if allowed to stand, the MOU would “commit the development of Louisiana education policy to a private non-Louisiana entity controlled by a ‘governing board’ consisting of individuals who are completely unaccountable to Louisiana voters.”

The clearest statement made at today’s BESE meeting was by Division of Administration Attorney Elizabeth Murill, who said that it could take years to untangle the legal knot that Common Core and PARCC have become in Louisiana.

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