Bobby Jindal’s Common Core Lawsuit Is Not About Education. It’s About Getting Bobby Jindal Elected.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Aug. 28 2014 7:02 PM

Bobby Jindal’s Desperate Move

The governor’s Common Core lawsuit is not about education in Louisiana. It’s just a stunt.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal tends to not like things anymore once President Obama starts to like them.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal sued the Department of Education and Arne Duncan in federal court Wednesday, claiming they have illegally coerced states into adopting Common Core education standards, which violates the state sovereignty clause in the Constitution as well as federal education law.

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

Armed with the legal argument of “I saw it first,” Jindal seems to be suing on the grounds that he liked Common Core (which sets English and math benchmarks for each grade) before it was cool, and he’s mad that the federal government started liking it too. “The federal government has hijacked and destroyed the Common Core initiative,” he 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.” The Common Core standards began as a bipartisan, state-led effort to create consistent education standards. But now that states are adopting it and Obama supports it, the whole thing is seen as federal overreach.

What is the “scheme” Jindal has uncovered? The Department of Education uses Race to the Top, a generous $4.3 billion grant program, as well as No Child Left Behind waivers to encourage states to adopt the uniform education standards. Jindal’s complaint says that this constitutes illegal federal coercion because it “effectively forces states down a path toward a national curriculum.”

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In his complaint filed in federal court, Jindal claims that Duncan impermissibly used grants and waivers to incentivize states to adopt Common Core: Forty-three states participate in Race to the Top, which obligates them, says Jindal, to enter into “binding agreements to adopt and fully implement a single set of federally defined content standards and to utilize assessment products created by a federally sponsored ‘consortia.’ ”

Jindal has a beef with the two consortia associated with Common Core—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC—which he believes are promoting a national curriculum. The testing consortia were awarded $360 million through Race to the Top grants to develop testing materials around the Common Core’s standards, which, again, critics say are less standards than federal guidelines.

The suit echoes the theory that prevailed in the Medicaid expansion section of the 2012 challenge to the Affordable Care Act: that the federal government was “coercing” the states with incentives that—in the language of Chief Justice John Roberts—was tantamount to holding a “gun to the head” of states.