BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — A federal judge peppered attorneys with questions Thursday about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's lawsuit accusing U.S. education officials of manipulating $4.3 billion in federal grant money and policy waivers to illegally pressure states to adopt Common Core standards and testing.
U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick said she expects to decide next month on a request by President Barack Obama's administration to throw the case out. Dick said her ruling would come shortly after Dec. 12, the deadline she gave lawyers for both sides to file any follow-up briefs.
"The court will take the matter under advisement," Dick told attorneys. "It's a particularly complex issue."
Jindal sued the U.S. Department of Education in August. The Republican governor, considering a 2016 presidential campaign, once supported Common Core as a way to improve student preparation for college and careers. But he came out against it earlier this year.
Jindal said the department's actions force states down a road toward a national education curriculum in violation of the state sovereignty clause in the Constitution and federal law.
During Thursday's hearing, U.S. Department of Justice lawyer Caroline Lewis Wolverton said Louisiana's decision to use the Common Core and its aligned testing was voluntary, not coerced by the federal government.
The Common Core standards are math and English benchmarks describing what students should know after completing each grade. More than 40 states have adopted them.
The Obama administration embraced the standards and encouraged states to use them.
Louisiana received a Race To the Top grant and a waiver from certain federal education requirements. Jindal's lawyer Jimmy Faircloth said the state should be able to decide whether it wants to participate in Common Core without fear it could lose the grant and waiver.
Wolverton said the Jindal administration didn't show that Louisiana has suffered harm by adopting the standards or would face retaliation by ending their use.
"There's nothing automatic about dropping common standards and losing funding or (policy waiver) flexibility," she said.
Wolverton said the adoption of common standards and testing accounted for only 10 percent of a state's points in the application for the education grants. She said Indiana got a policy waiver even though it didn't adopt Common Core.
"How is that coercing the state into going down this road?" Dick asked Faircloth.
He replied that the federal regulations governing Race To the Top put much more emphasis on the use of common standards and testing.
"Louisiana didn't invent these conditions," Faircloth said.
No matter what happens with the federal lawsuit, it's not clear the state will ever change course on Common Core. Despite Jindal's change of heart, state lawmakers and the state education board have refused to scrap use of the standards.
Jindal said he'll make a renewed push to jettison the standards in the 2015 legislative session, and a state lawsuit seeking to get Louisiana out of Common Core also is pending.
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