Louisiana’s state school superintendent John White supports Common Core, an effort to foster interstate consistency in education standards. So does the state board of education. So does the state legislature, for that matter, which passed a law in 2012 enabling the state to opt in to Common Core standards. Indeed, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) actively pushed for this 2012 law, which he signed. Recently, however, Jindal decided that he actually opposes Common Core, although he’s not been successful in convincing White, the state education board or the state legislature to join him in opposition.
So Jindal has turned to what has become the last refuge for conservative officials and activists who can’t get what they want through a legitimate lawmaking process. He’s suing the Obama Administration in federal court.
If you are confused, you should be. Louisiana’s decision to embrace Common Core standards was not made by President Obama or any member of his administration. It was made by Louisiana state officials and Louisiana state lawmakers. One of them was Bobby Jindal. As a general rule, federal courts do not exist to resolve purely internal disputes among state-level political figures.
What the Obama Administration has done, however, is administer various federal grant programs, some of which offer money to states that join together under Common Core standards. Some of these grants are conditional, meaning that any state can receive them so long as they comply with certain conditions. Others are competitive, meaning that they are awarded to the states that perform best in a nationwide competition. In either case, however, participating in these grant programs is entirely optional. Each state, including Louisiana, is free to opt out of these programs and not take the federal money.
The crux of Jindal’s lawsuit, however, is that the grant programs that reward participation in Common Core somehow violate the Constitution and federal law because they force Louisiana to enter into an entirely voluntary program that it did, in fact, enter into voluntarily. At one point, for example, Jindal quotes a federal law providing that certain federal education programs shall not be understood “to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system.” At another point, he claims that the federal grant programs “force the States to implement a federal program.”
This claim, however, is false. The federal grant programs do not “direct” or “force” Louisiana to do anything. They gave Louisiana a choice and the state made the entirely voluntary decision to embrace Common Core and accept the benefits that come with it. If Jindal now regrets this choice, which he enthusiastically supported at the time, then he should convince the state legislature to rethink the legislation he signed.
The problem for Jindal, of course, is that he has tried and failed to bring the rest of the state government around to his latest view. It is not the job of the federal court system to bail Jindal out from his own failure to persuade.