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Obama Administration's Education Policies at the Heart of New Lawsuit


Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, plans to file a lawsuit Wednesday against the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for its role in forcing states to adopt the Common Core State Standards and aligned assessments.

The 29-page lawsuit, to be filed at the U.S. District Court's Middle District of Louisiana, argues that Race to the Top, the administration's signature competitive-grant program, used federal money to coerce states into adopting the common core and herded them toward a national curriculum.

It also charges that the administration's offer of No Child Left Behind Act waivers similarly forced states to adopt the standards and aligned assessments, and that the education secretary has no legal authority to offer waivers on a conditional basis.

Taken together, the grant competition and waivers represent "an attempt by the executive branch to implement national education reform far beyond the intentions of Congress," the lawsuit states.

Race to the Top, a $4 billion competition authorized as part of the federal stimulus package in 2009, awarded states money to, among other things, adopt college- and career-ready standards. The competition also included $360 million for the development of tests aligned to new academic standards.

States that decided to adopt common standards and assessments scored higher on their competition applications. As a result, several states decided to adopt the Common Core State Standards and sign on to one of the consortia developing assessments, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or Smarter Balanced.

Louisiana, which is part of the PARCC consortium, won $17 million from Race to the Top (one of the smaller, runner-up grants), and also scored a waiver from the Education Department from provision of the NCLB law.

At the heart of Jindal's lawsuit:

"Through regulatory and rule making authority, [Duncan and the Education Department] have constructed a scheme that effectively forces states down a path toward a national curriculum by requiring, as a condition of funding under the President's Race to the Top programs, that states join 'consortia of states' and agree to adopt a common set of content standards and to implement the assessment protocols and policies created by that consortium, all under the direction of the United States Department of Education."

[UPDATE 4:05 P.M.: Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for Duncan, said late Wednesday afternoon, "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."

Nolt did not comment on the actual lawsuit, which has now officially been filed.]

Latest Wrinkle

This is not Jindal's first common-core rodeo. In fact, it's just a new wrinkle in an increasingly complicated and ugly battle over the common-core standards and tests playing out in the Pelican State between the governor, state legislators, the Louisiana state education board, and a group of parents and teachers.

In June Jindal announced his intentions to withdraw the state from using the standards and aligned assessments.

In opposition, the state board and the group of parents and teachers sued Jindal to challenge his decision, which they say will hamstring teachers and create uncertainty for schools in the 2014-15 academic year.

Jindal immediately filed a countersuit.

Separately, a group of state legislators requested a temporary injunction as part of a lawsuit against the state board that would have required schools to immediately stop using the common core.

The request was denied last week, but the lawsuit is still moving forward. In it, lawmakers allege that the state board adopted the common core without following proper administrative procedure, and that the public did not have a real chance to review and comment on the state's move to use the standards.

If this is all a little confusing to follow, have no fear. My colleague, Andrew Ujifusa, crafted this nifty timeline to help us follow the developments.

But all this is to say that Jindal's newest lawsuit—the one against Duncan and the Education Department—is just the next step in his quest to decouple the state from the common core.

"Louisiana now finds itself trapped in a federal scheme to nationalize curriculum," Jindal's latest lawsuit reads. "What started as good State intentions has materialized into the federalization of education policy through federal economic incentives and duress."

Congressional Lawsuit Looms

Jindal's lawsuit also comes just weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution on party lines that allows Speaker of the House John Boehner to sue President Barack Obama for a series of executive actions that House Republicans argue were an overreach of his legal authority.

Though that forthcoming lawsuit will specifically focus on the health care law, Republican lawmakers in building their case against the president said the administration's waiver offering is one of several examples of executive actions they claim represent an abuse of authority.

Obama and Duncan haven't apologized for their approach, and instead have argued that in the face of a historically dysfunctional Congress, it's their obligation to use every tool at their disposal to bring relief to states—in this case, from the broken and widely-criticized NCLB law.

It's unclear how Jindal's lawsuit will fare. Race to the Top was a competition that states could choose not to participate in if they didn't like the policies attached to it, and the NCLB law provides the secretary broad waiver authority.

In fact, report from the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan research arm of Congress, found the administration was acting within its legal authority in offering conditional waivers.

Jindal is, however, the first governor to officially sue the Education Department for overstepping its legal authority—something that's been at the heart of Republican discontent for the Obama administration for years now.

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