WASHINGTON — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday accusing the U.S. Department of Education of illegally coercing states to adopt the Common Core academic standards by requiring states that want to compete for federal grants to embrace the national standards.
Jindal also accused the department and Education Secretary Arne Duncan of forcing states to adopt the Common Core standards to win a waiver from some of the restrictive aspects of No Child Left Behind, the federal education law.
In both cases, the federal government violated the Constitution’s 10th Amendment, which strikes the balance between federal and states’ rights, as well as federal laws that prohibit Washington from interfering with local control over curriculum and other aspects of public education, Jindal alleges in his complaint.
“Common Core is the latest effort by big government disciples to strip away state rights and put Washington, D.C. in control of everything,” Jindal said in a statement. “What started out as an innovative idea to create a set of base-line standards that could be ‘voluntarily’ used by the states has turned into a scheme by the federal government to nationalize curriculum.”
Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate, was once a strong supporter of the Common Core, but he has become increasingly critical as popular opposition to the standards has grown, particularly among conservative Republicans and tea party groups. Republican activists say that opposition to the Common Core has become a litmus test for their candidates.
The Common Core State Standards spell out the skills and knowledge students should possess at the end of each school year, from kindergarten through 12th grade. The standards are not curriculum; decisions about what school districts teach and how they teach it are left to states and localities.
In June, Jindal tried unsuccessfully to pull Louisiana out of the Common Core but was stymied by the state legislature, the state board of education and Jindal’s own state superintendent of education – all supporters of the math and reading standards for K-12. Before filing the lawsuit Wednesday, Jindal also tried unsuccessfully to sue his state board of education over the Common Core standards.
Louisiana and 42 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, are fully implementing the standards in classrooms this school year.
Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, brushed aside questions about the lawsuit. “The most important thing is that children in Louisiana have gone back to school this year with high academic standards in place in their classrooms to help prepare them to succeed in college, career and life,” she said.
Duncan has accused Jindal of seeking political advantage.
“Gov. Jindal was a passionate supporter of Common Core before he was against it,” Duncan said in June. “That situation is about politics, it’s not about education. And frankly that’s part of the problem.”
Jimmy Faircloth, Jindal’s former executive counsel who is now a private attorney representing Jindal in his federal lawsuit, said the governor supported the standards before he realized the extent of federal involvement.
“Everyone supports the goals of the Common Core, but as you get into the program, you start to realize what it really is,” Faircloth said. “It kind of tangles a state into a situation it can’t get out of.”
The standards began as a state-led effort that originated with a bipartisan group of governors and state education chiefs. The Common Core was created as a way to inject some consistency into academic standards, which vary widely from state to state. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation largely funded the effort to write Common Core, as well as the process to get the standards adopted and implemented.
Although the federal government had no official role in developing the standards, the Obama administration has supported them, giving $360 million to groups of states that are writing new Common Core tests.
Obama’s education department also used Race to the Top, its $4.3 billion competitive grant program, as an inducement, saying that states adopting “college- and career-ready” standards had a better chance of winning federal dollars under the program. Most states understood that phrase to mean Common Core.
When Louisiana applied multiple times for a grant under Obama’s Race to the Top program, Jindal never mentioned overreach, illegality or coercion. His state superintendent of education at the time wrote to the U.S. Department of Education “we proudly submit this application to Race to the Top because Louisiana’s children can’t wait.” Louisiana won on the third try in 2011, when it received a $17.4 million grant. The state also sought and received a waiver from No Child Left Behind after meeting the Obama administration’s requirements.