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Racing to the Bottom 

Jindal cares more about his own ideological purity than he does about Louisiana's poor children

I'm beginning to believe Bobby Jindal when he says he's not going to seek national office in the next four years. I have concluded that not because I think Jindal is a man of his word, but rather because he is making some really boneheaded decisions that surely will come back to haunt him should he decide to run for some higher office.

  Case in point: Jindal's decision last week not to seek $60 million in federal Race to the Top grants for early childhood education.

  The governor's hypocrisy on the issue of accepting and spending federal dollars should be the stuff of legend. A few years ago he lambasted President Obama's stimulus programs, yet he didn't hesitate to go around the state handing out oversized checks to local governing bodies — with his name on the signature line — even though every dollar of that money came from Obama's stimulus plan.

  When it comes to hypocrisy, this guy has no threshold of shame.

  Now comes the third round of Race to the Top grants — a total of roughly $500 million nationally, of which Louisiana could compete for about $60 million. In prior years, Louisiana submitted grant applications for other Race to the Top grants, but without success. The competition is stiff.

  Because this year's grants are dedicated to improving the quality of early learning experiences and closing the achievement gap for children with high needs because of poverty and other issues — and because Louisiana's stifling poverty rate correlates closely (and directly) to a lack of effective early childhood education programs — our state would seem to be a leading contender for these funds.

  According to well-placed sources in state government, all that was needed to complete the application was Jindal's signature.

  He refused to sign. Worse yet, he couldn't even own up to making the decision himself. Instead, he got underlings to take responsibility — and to trash the grants.

  "The grant has strings attached that will force more state and federal control on our education system," state Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Ruth Johnson said in a prepared statement.

  Acting State Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler parroted Johnson's comments, noting that Louisiana's early childhood programs are not well coordinated. "We need to completely revamp these programs and streamline our oversight, our funding streams and our quality standards," Tyler said.

  Really? That's our excuse — that we're too screwed up to apply for this money?

  If that's really the case, then why hasn't the Jindal administration done something about that lack of coordination in the last three-and-a-half years? More specifically, what have the Department of Children and Family Services and the state Department of Education been doing since January 2008?

  Truth be told, Johnson and Tyler are just patsies for Jindal — loyal foot soldiers ordered to take a hit for our risk-averse, no-cojones governor. Johnson and Tyler didn't make the decision not to apply for these funds; it was Jindal and his coterie of ideologues.

  Which brings us to the "strings attached" argument, which is a favorite bogeyman of Team Jindal and other right-wingers.

  While he decries the "red tape" associated with these grants, Jindal does not hesitate to grab federal dollars on many other fronts. Don't think for a minute that federal highway funds or health care funds don't also come with "strings" attached.

  So why not compete for early childhood education grants?

  Only one answer makes sense: Jindal cares more about his own ideological purity than he does about Louisiana's poor children.

  And if he ever seeks higher office, his pathetic record on that front will surely come back to haunt him.

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