Stephanie Grace: Jindal, Edwards both oppose Common Core

Little noticed in all the hoopla over last week’s House Education Committee votes to effectively keep the controversial Common Core standards in Louisiana schools was a fascinating tidbit: Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and the only Democrat who’s declared his intent to run for the office next time around, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, were on the same side, proving once again that Common Core creates uncommon bedfellows.

Jindal and Edwards both quietly supported the two anti-Common Core bills under consideration during the marathon hearing. One, by state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, would have created a huge, unwieldy commission to come up with Louisiana-specific standards rather than stick with the ones adopted by states across the country. The second, by state Rep. Cameron Henry Jr. R-Metairie, would have recused Louisiana from the testing consortium its own education officials helped form.

They did so for different reasons.

Jindal, like many GOP governors, was once an unabashed supporter of the movement. Ever since pressure from the tea party wing of the GOP started bubbling up, he’s been distancing himself from what he started calling a one-size-fits-all approach. He didn’t come out and call Common Core a federal takeover, but by repeatedly declaring his opposition to any such hypothetical scenario, he played to those who opposed it on that incorrect belief.

Edwards, a longtime critic of education reform policies pushed by Jindal and his allies, is more in line with teacher unions. His public comments have focused on implementation, cost and expectations of educators.

But far more significant than why they both supported the bills is the fact that neither rallied his own people. Common Core, it turns out, also has created an unusual, and unusually strong, alliance of advocates.

Jindal may have appeased the part of his base that looks askance at the federal government and national standards — the isolationist caucus, as one pro-Common Core witness characterized the sentiment — but he broke with the strongest proponents of his otherwise aggressive educational agenda. They include state Superintendent of Education John White, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer, and too many business leaders and governmental think tanks to list. The group also includes key lawmakers such as the House and Senate Education Committee chairmen Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, and Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, who remain firmly in the Common Core camp.

Edwards, who heads the House Democratic Caucus, was the lone member of his party to support the two measures. The other six Democrats on the committee, including five members of the black caucus, joined with the business-wing Republicans to squelch both challenges. The votes reflected the larger coalition fighting off challenges in various states, which includes not only the U.S. Chamber of Commerce but the National Urban League.

The Chamber’s foundation, ironically, chose last week to trumpet support from Jindal himself to try to stave off challenges to Common Core in states across the nation, some of which are moving down the path that the Education Committee has now seemingly blocked. The same day Jindal finally formalized his clean break, the organization released an online video quoting Jindal saying, “Adopting the Common Core State Standards… will raise expectations for every child.” Pity the poor staffer who didn’t keep up with the governor’s shifting position and pulled that quotation, which Jindal’s office dismissed as simply old.

In the end, the Common Core opponents didn’t put up much of a fight. Many of the official witnesses who spoke for the two bills complained about the implementation of Common Core — something neither bill addressed, and that can certainly be improved — rather than the idea itself. And neither Jindal nor Edwards made anything like a big push; instead, they seemed content to just go on the record.

So there’s one more common thread between Jindal and Edwards, the state’s current top dog and the man who wants to take his place. Both took the politically expedient position on one of the most heated and important policy debates to hit the Legislature this season. And as a result, both wound up being irrelevant.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes.