For a guy who doesn't like frivolous lawsuits, Gov. Bobby Jindal apparently doesn't mind using one to further his political ambitions. That's the only logical explanation for the governor's decision to file a lawsuit seeking to annul a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that Jindal himself signed in 2010 — back when he supported the Common Core educational initiative. The governor's lawsuit, filed last week, represents his latest ploy in the ongoing war over Common Core in Louisiana. With each new volley, Jindal shows just how desperately he wants to keep the controversy alive — preferably with himself in the forefront — to foster what he hopes (vainly, according to every national poll) will become his presidential campaign.
On its face, Jindal's lawsuit seeks to nullify the state's commitment to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing consortium, which is tied to the Common Core initiative. Back when Jindal supported Common Core (as recently as two years ago), he urged lawmakers to pass legislation promoting it, and he joined state education leaders in signing the MOU that made Louisiana a member of the PARCC consortium. That was then.
Now Jindal is suing the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), claiming the MOU violates Louisiana's state sovereignty — a favorite meme of anti-Common Core troops on the GOP's far right. At its core, however, the governor's lawsuit is merely another grandstand play by a below-radar wannabe desperately in search of political red meat.
Many Common Core opponents have sincere concerns about the initiative, and the rollout in Louisiana was uneven at best, amateurish at worst. Those initial problems could have been overcome via a bipartisan measure that lawmakers enacted this spring, giving educators more time to fully implement Common Core and the PARCC test. Jindal vetoed that bill — after he did practically nothing to help anti-Common Core lawmakers push legislation to weaken or kill the initiative. The legislative session was the appropriate forum to decide Common Core's future in Louisiana, but Jindal chose to sit on the sidelines. After lawmakers adjourned, the governor tried to gut Common Core himself by administratively blocking the PARCC test. Lest anyone forget, state lawmakers rejected every bill to kill Common Core, which proves there is widespread support for the initiative, despite all the noise coming from Jindal and the far right.
If the governor truly opposes Common Core, why has he employed such an oblique strategy to fight it? The answer is simple: He wants to put himself at the front of the anti-Common Core parade and take as much credit as possible for opposing it. He obviously believes that's his ticket to the GOP's big dance in 2016.
That's a cynical stratagem by the governor. He undoubtedly realizes that he cannot unilaterally kill Common Core, but he certainly could have sidetracked or delayed its implementation had he not been a no-show during the legislative session. Instead, he chose to launch a war of attrition against it by thwarting plans (that were years in the making) to fully implement Common Core and the PARCC test this school year. Full implementation was set to commence later this month, but now everything is up in the air just weeks before school begins.
Jindal's lawsuit is not the only litigation in the Common Core fracas. More than a dozen state lawmakers sued BESE and state Education Superintendent John White on July 21, claiming that BESE failed to follow the Administrative Procedures Act in implementing Common Core. That suit echoes claims by Jindal, who has used his administrative authority to sidetrack PARCC. The next day (July 22), a group of pro-Common Core parents and teachers sued Jindal, accusing him of exceeding his authority by holding up the PARCC test contract. BESE voted a week later to join the parents' lawsuit against Jindal, and the governor tried to deprive the board of an attorney — even though BESE's legal counsel is working for free. A day after BESE moved to join the parents' lawsuit, Jindal countered with his suit against BESE. All the suits will be heard in Baton Rouge.
All this, after Jindal championed Common Core as part of his education reform package. To say the governor has been inconsistent on Common Core is the understatement of the year. Equally accurate are claims that Jindal is using this controversy to advance his political ambitions. If he really cared about improving education in Louisiana, Jindal would have acted long before he did, and in a different fashion.