Jindal joins forces with foes to fight Common Core

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Legislature 2014 session -- Gov. Bobby Jindal makes a point while addressing the joint session of the Legislature to start the 2014 session.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Legislature 2014 session -- Gov. Bobby Jindal makes a point while addressing the joint session of the Legislature to start the 2014 session.

Bills to overturn academic standards fail

When Gov. Bobby Jindal threw his last-minute support behind what turned out to be a failed legislative bid to toss out the Common Core academic standards, he teamed up with what he has long called the “coalition for the status quo” — against his own political allies.

Jindal’s backing for a pair of anti-Common Core bills put him in an alliance with the very groups he repeatedly blasted in 2012 when pushing his own education overhaul through the Legislature, including tougher tenure laws and an expanded voucher program.

It meant that he was aligned with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers — often criticized by the governor as an obstacle to his and others’ education improvements — as well as the Louisiana Association of Educators, another frequent foe, to shelve the tougher academic goals.

“There are times when we can find common ground,” Jindal said in a brief interview on Friday.

The governor’s support for the bills also put him at odds with his hand-picked state Superintendent of Education, John White, who denounced both measures, and key allies on the pro-Jindal state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, including five members who appeared at the hearing.

Even Jindal’s former chief of staff, Stephen Waguespack, urged the committee to reject the sweeping bill, sponsored by Rep. Brett Geymann, and show the same kind of courage it did two years ago when the governor’s education overhaul won committee approval.

“We have been on a drive,” said Waguespack, who is president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

“But we have not scored yet,” he said of efforts to make major improvements to public schools.

Lawmakers involved in the fray said Jindal’s stance had little impact.

“I think it had absolutely nothing to do with the vote,” said state Rep. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, a member of the House Education Committee who opposed the bills.

“I don’t think the governor’s position on the bill had any impact on any legislator,” said House Democrat Caucus Chairman John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, who backed the proposals.

The bills to undo and revamp the education overhaul failed on 7-12 votes after nine hours of testimony and debate.

One of the measures, House Bill 381, would scrap Common Core in favor of a 30-member commission to draft new standards and give the Legislature the final say on whether they are adopted.

“What is becoming increasingly clear to us is more and more parents have legitimate concerns about Common Core,” Jindal said when asked why he backed the bill.

“It seems this process has been rushed, not just in Louisiana but across the country,” he said. “It makes sense to take some time and get this right.”

The other Jindal-backed proposal, House Bill 558, would negate the national Common Core test that students take in earnest starting in 2015, which the governor again branded as a “one size fits all” exam.

The governor is in the third year of his second term. He cannot seek a third consecutive term.

Jindal’s views on Common Core have been hard to read for months, sparking speculation that his national ambitions — he is considered a longshot 2016 GOP president possibility — were causing him to back away from the new math, reading and writing standards amid increasing controversy nationwide.

Lawmakers involved in the issue said neither the governor nor his aides worked hard to exert his influence on the bills.

Neither the governor, who was out of town the day of the hearing, nor his aides testified in support of either measure.

Jindal aides said green cards — a sign of support — were filed with the House Education Committee on the day of the hearing.

On the votes, six Republicans and six Democrats teamed up to reject the bill, including House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, and chief handler of some of Jindal’s key education overhaul bills in 2012.

Those casting “yes” votes to both bills included five Republicans, one Democrat and one no party.

Geymann, R-Lake Charles, who clashed with Jindal last year on budget issues, said the governor’s support carries weight.

“We wanted him on board,” he said.

Critics said Jindal’s stance was a bid to get involved without really getting involved.

“He wants to play both sides of the fence it seems,” Price said.

State Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, who opposed both bills, said he was concerned about the workability of a 30-member panel to draft new standards, a concern of Price as well.

Both lawmakers also said that, if the key concern was how Common Core was implemented, why did Geymann’s bill call for a panel to draft new standards?

“So we weren’t attacking the problem,” Price said of Geymann’s bill. “The problem was implementation.”

The defeat of the two anti-Common Core bills was a major blow to critics of the standards.

However, other efforts are expected before adjournment on June 2.

“I am still optimistic we can do that, even on the bills that did not make it through committee,” Jindal said.