Stephanie Grace: Would-be successors bucking Jindal on Core

BY STEPHANIE GRACE

sgrace@theadvocate.com

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s phone started ringing first thing Thursday, and it’s no wonder.

Dardenne had penned a blistering letter in that morning’s Advocate condemning Gov. Bobby Jindal for injecting “D.C. style political games” into the state’s peaceful, orderly and long-planned transition to the Common Core standards and their associated tests. So far so good; Dardenne’s clearly not alone in his disgust with the governor’s disruptive tactics.

Yet tucked away in the letter’s middle was an unexpected and seemingly significant line, one that echoed rhetoric used by Jindal and other Common Core foes.

“I agree with Gov. Jindal that Louisiana should establish its own standards and tests in Louisiana,” Dardenne wrote.

Does this mean Dardenne, a fellow Republican and a candidate to replace Jindal next year, disagrees with the governor’s behavior but concurs with his newfound opposition to Common Core itself?

Not at all, Dardenne explained to everyone who contacted him to ask. Quite the opposite. What he meant to communicate, Dardenne said, is that Common Core was adopted through Louisiana’s “proper legal framework,” as he wrote in the following sentence — the very same framework that Jindal now wants to overrule. The governor has filed legal challenges and issued executive orders to try to stop adoption of Common Core tests.

“I’m satisfied that we need to continue with what we’re doing. I don’t think we ought to slam on the brakes and reverse course at this point,” Dardenne said. He acknowledged that implementation has been difficult and that “we’re going to continue to have discussions about it.” But Dardenne said, as definitively as he has to date, that he stands firmly with the Legislature’s and state education board’s majorities — not to mention a long list of business and influential policy advocates — in the supporter column.

Dardenne’s not the only candidate in next year’s governor race who’s embracing Common Core these days. In fact, at this point, it’s not at all clear that any major contender will follow Jindal’s lead, bow to a revolt driven by skeptics of the federal government on the far right and go for a full reversal.

Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, whose overall politics are more closely aligned with the forces opposing Common Core than Dardenne’s, came out strongly in favor last week as well.

“I support the strong standards Louisiana now has in place and think Gov. Jindal’s attempt to start from scratch right before the new school year is very disruptive,” the senator said in a statement to The Associated Press

The third major hopeful, Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards, cast an anti-Common Core vote in a key education committee last spring but lately has been hewing toward the center. In a recent Baton Rouge Press Club appearance, he said he doesn’t oppose Common Core but wants local educators and parents to review the individual standards and have the authority to makes changes.

For him, keeping an open mind makes sense. While there’s some union opposition to Common Core, there’s also strong support among leading Democrats such as New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and members of the Legislative Black Caucus. And the states-rights voters driving the anti-Common Core movement aren’t about to go for a Democrat anyway.

The upshot is that, once the race for governor really gets going, Common Core may turn out to be much less divisive an issue than it is today. Just as all three active candidates have signaled their willingness to at least consider accepting the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion — something else that Jindal adamantly opposes — all appear bent on looking for a way to stick with the state-developed national standards, even if they throw a few bones to those agitating for a Louisiana-only plan.

If so, chalk it up as yet another sign that the powers-that-be in both parties are just waiting for Jindal to take his national ambitions and get out of the way — and are ready to get down to the serious business of running Louisiana once he does.

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