Stephanie Grace: Jindal fails leadership test on Common Core

Early in his first term, Gov. Bobby Jindal found himself backed into a corner.

Although he quietly opposed legislative efforts to roll back income tax hikes established by the voter-approved Stelly tax swap, Jindal failed to quell a move to repeal them. Then some legislators, eyeing huge but temporary Hurricane-Katrina-and-oil-driven surpluses, started talking about repealing the income tax entirely — and looked like they might actually have the votes to do it. And so, fearing an even more devastating hit to the state’s coffers, Jindal suddenly decided he was fine with the initial idea. He convened the players, announced his support for eliminating the Stelly increases, smiled and proclaimed it a great day for Louisiana.

It’s called coming up with an exit strategy. Politicians do it all the time, and, as we saw back in 2008, Jindal certainly understands the concept.

Which makes his current refusal to find a way out of the stalemate over Common Core education standards even more infuriating.

It should be entirely clear by now, after his negotiation session with Education Superintendent John White last week went nowhere, that Jindal isn’t interested in a solution. Nope, he just wants an issue he can take on the road, one that lets him keep up with the Cruzes and Rubios and other Republicans out there competing to become the darling of the GOP’s most conservative wing. And in depressing contrast with his stance back in 2008, he’s not at all worried about the consequences.

Because Jindal’s had his chances to lower the temperature, end the fighting, let educators do their jobs and still claim victory.

He could have signed a bill to delay penalties for poor performance on the tests at the center of the conflict by three years instead of the current two, in effect providing a time-out. Instead, he vetoed the measure.

And after he invoked newfound concerns that the purchase of tests produced by a consortium of states (Louisiana included) violated state procurement policy, he could have agreed to meet Common Core adherents on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education halfway. They proposed seeking new bids for a state-specific test for this year, with content determined by education officials and with questions that could be used to compare Louisiana students’ scores to those earned by students in other states.

Jindal said thanks but no thanks. He indicated he’d only agree to a solution that allowed the administration to meddle in policy decisions that are supposed to be the province of the Department of Education.

Meanwhile, school is set to open, and the plan in place since 2010 to start administering the PARCC tests is up in the air. If Jindal has a suggestion for how teachers and schools are supposed to proceed given the uncertainty, it sure would be nice to hear it.

Actually, it also would be nice to hear whether he has specific issues with the Common Core standards themselves, which were created by states across the country — with support from Jindal and other Republican and Democratic governors — as a way to better prepare students for the global workforce and provide measurable data on their success state by state. Instead, all we get from him is misleading, hard-line rhetoric suggesting that Common Core amounts to a federal takeover.

And it would be nice to hear why he’s suddenly so worried about procurement policy, when education officials have been using the contract in question to purchase tests for years. Not to mention why his staffers are suddenly throwing around inflammatory references to corruption without making specific allegations.

All this may be playing perfectly well when he travels the country making speeches before ideologically driven crowds, but back home, the reviews are devastating, (although, interestingly, not from the teachers unions he once labeled leaders in the “coalition of the status quo”).

A few months back, Paul Pastorek, White’s predecessor, published a harsh op-ed on nola.com urging Jindal to “eschew attempting to appeal to the far right wing of our party… and maintain his reputation as a governor who has led Louisiana out of the education doldrums.”

Just this week, Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, penned a scathing commentary that says it as well as anyone has.

“The situation has reached a crisis level with serious potential consequences for students, parents, teachers and all of us as stakeholders in the future of Louisiana,” Scott wrote. “This was a crisis of choice and the clearest responsibility for it lies with the governor.”

And while he mainly focused on the effect of Jindal’s policies in Louisiana, he offered a bit of food for thought to all those voters listening to Jindal on the national campaign trail.

“Is this demonstration of leadership,” Scott asked, “an indication what kind of president he would be?”

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