Jindal sides with unions on Common Core fight

Just two years ago, Gov. Bobby Jindal was aligned with business, education and other groups in his push to overhaul public schools. He made teacher unions one of the focal points of his criticism.

Now Jindal is generally aligned with those same teacher unions that he repeatedly blasted in 2012 and is on the opposite side from his previous allies, his state superintendent of education and even his former chief of staff.

Why the dramatic shift in alliances?

Common Core.

Jindal, a former backer of the national academic standards, now says he wants them out of Louisiana.

That turnaround has put him at odds with a wide range of groups that helped the governor win approval for arguably the two signature bills of his six-plus years in office: the overhaul of teacher tenure and the expansion of school vouchers statewide.

Virtually every group originally aligned with the governor in those fights — the Council for a Better Louisiana, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, and Stand for Children — is now fighting Jindal’s bid to drop Common Core.

Meanwhile, organizations that Jindal repeatedly called “the coalition for the status quo,” including the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, called LFT, and the Louisiana Association of Educators, are mostly supporting the governor’s bid.

In addition, two of the Jindal administration’s biggest critics on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education — Lottie Beebe, of Breaux Bridge, and Carolyn Hill, of Baton Rouge — are now echoing Jindal’s calls for new tests.

“The sides are still the same, with one exception,” Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin said. “That would be the governor.”

In an interview, Jindal said his policies have been consistent since 2008 — that parents are the first and best educators.

“There are a lot of people out there who don’t think Common Core is a good idea,” Jindal said. “It includes teachers and parents on the front lines.”

He said, “You can’t worry about the politics” around the issue.

Political alliances change all the time, and it is hardly unusual for often-warring politicians to team up on an issue.

But Jindal’s turnaround goes beyond that, in part because in 2012 he all but made teacher unions the symbol of resistance to long-overdue changes in public schools.

Once the voucher and tenure bills won final approval, the LFT — one of the groups now mostly aligned with the governor on Common Core — filed a lawsuit aimed at striking down both laws.

Both legal challenges are still pending, but after Jindal spelled out his plans to shelve the Common Core standards, the LFT issued a statement that said both the standards and assessments that go with them “are toxic because of the political controversy surrounding them.”

For his part, Jindal cited an LFT survey on teacher concerns about Common Core when he announced plans to end the state’s involvement. Such a reference would have been unthinkable two years ago.

Rayne Martin, executive director of Stand for Children, said the shake-up over Common Core means that teacher unions, the Louisiana School Boards Association and others who opposed Jindal-backed school accountability measures, including state-issued letter grades for public schools, are now teamed up with the governor.

Martin, a former top official of the state Department of Education, said Jindal “is siding with folks who have been in opposition to him on everything.”

Some of Jindal’s former foes downplayed the significance of the new lineup.

Louisiana Association of Educators President Debbie Meaux said her group agrees with the governor’s push to get rid of Common Core exams, which are being developed by a consortium called the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

“The implementation for Common Core was all wrong, totally wrong,” Meaux said.

However, she said LAE teachers have mixed views about the standards — Jindal opposes them — and the group remains at odds with the governor over his teacher tenure overhaul.

The Louisiana School Boards Association, which often clashed with Jindal on key school overhaul issues in 2012, has major concerns about Common Core.

But Scott Richard, executive director of the group, said he does not see the issues through the prism of changing political alliances.

“Everybody wants to see what side everybody is on,” Richard said. “We are on the side of children and local governance for systems.”

Common Core represents new academic standards in reading, writing and math.

Louisiana is one of 42 states set to take part.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, once pro-Jindal, voted on Tuesday to hire special legal counsel in a bid to push ahead with test plans despite the governor’s wishes.

Backers say the changes will improve student achievement and make students more competitive internationally.

Jindal and other opponents say the new academic goals are top-heavy with federal influence and that tougher, state-produced standards make more sense.

The governor’s stance also puts him on opposite sides with state Superintendent of Education John White; Jindal lobbied for months to get White the job.

He is also at odds with Stephen Waguespack, the governor’s former chief of staff. Now president of Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Waguespack was heavily involved in the 2012 push for sweeping changes in public schools.

Brigitte Nieland, who follows public school issues for LABI, said it is ironic that the governor who “led the effort to sort of break up the status quo” was surrounded by anti-reform officials at his Common Core news conference.

“Sometimes, that is what politics will do,” Nieland said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.