Gov. Bobby Jindal's politically motivated attacks against the Common Core educational standards have become so heavy-handed that even some of his traditional allies are calling him out. Until recently, Jindal ranked among the leading supporters of Common Core.
The governor changed his position after the state's rollout of Common Core educational standards last year. Many students, teachers and parents complained that the new curricula were confusing, even controversial. That led to a groundswell on the far right, which was all it took to get Jindal to switch sides.
Anti-Common Core forces were all set to wage war on the initiative during the spring legislative session, but Jindal was a no-show each time a bill to weaken or kill the program came up. (That spoke volumes about the sincerity of Jindal's newfound opposition.) After the session ended, he tried to gut the initiative administratively — and unilaterally — by going after the standardized test that is part of the Common Core program.
The governor claimed the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), which is constitutionally empowered to set education policy, failed to follow proper procurement procedures in buying the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test. That test was set to be used this academic year, which begins in a few weeks. With great fanfare, Jindal issued an executive order instructing his underlings not to pay for the test, arguing that it was purchased illegally. That created a constitutional standoff with BESE — and threw Louisiana public education into disarray on the eve of the coming school year.
Jindal met with state Education Superintendent John White last week to discuss the impasse, to no avail. White, like most BESE members, supports Common Core. After the meeting, the governor's top aide told reporters that Jindal's main concern is Louisiana's "history of public corruption" — a thinly veiled accusation that BESE and White broke the law in buying the PARCC test.
That caused even some of Jindal's allies to gag.
According to Quin Hillyer, the conservative columnist at The Advocate, Jindal aide Kyle Plotkin used the word "corruption" several times in reference to White and BESE's support of Common Core. Hillyer, who generally supports Jindal and ardently opposes Common Core, cried foul.
"One doesn't bring up 'corruption' in such circumstances unless one is insinuating that there is corruption afoot," Hillyer wrote on his blog. Noting that there is no evidence of wrongdoing, he concluded, "It's dirty pool. And it should not stand."
The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR), a nonpartisan government watchdog group, fired off a commentary slamming Jindal for his "inconsistent" approach to procurement standards. PAR called the current standoff "a crisis of choice" that Jindal created.
"If the past contracting methods were faulty, the administration as well as the education agencies bear a responsibility," PAR added. "Although the governor now insists that competitive bids be used for a testing contract, he has endorsed no-bid contracts for major initiatives he has favored. His sudden zeal for competitive bidding is welcome but apparently is selective."
PAR titled its commentary "Leadership and Crisis in Education" — a snarky reference to Jindal's cliche-riddled book, Leadership and Crisis, which was ghostwritten as a precursor to his still-inert presidential campaign.
Tying Jindal's "inconsistent path on educational standards" to his presidential ambitions, PAR concluded, "Jindal's oscillation on this issue combined with his apparent political calculations are affecting his image as a sincere and reliable leader here in Louisiana. ... The governor has the main responsibility for creating this crisis and a failure of the system would be on his shoulders."
Even the normally reserved Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL) unloaded on Jindal, calling the governor's lecture to White about public corruption "more smoke and mirrors" and "a charade."
"The procurement process was meant to shelter state purchasing from political influence, but they appear to be using it to insert their own political influence," CABL said of Team Jindal. "Would that be corrupt?"
Such criticism normally would give a governor pause. But Jindal obviously cares more about his image in Iowa and New Hampshire than in Louisiana. Nothing else explains his actions — or his tactics.