Vitter offers ringing endorsement for Common Core

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who is running for governor, wholeheartedly endorsed Common Core on Friday and chided Gov. Bobby Jindal for his political assault on the new academic standards.

“I support the strong standards Louisiana now has in place and think Governor Jindal’s attempt to start from scratch right before the school year is very disruptive,” Vitter said in a prepared statement.

The senator’s comments mean that two of the state’s top leaders, both Republicans, have polar opposite views about the value of the new standards in reading, writing and math.

Jindal wants the state out of Common Core. He is trying to shelve tests planned for the upcoming school year and earlier this year compared the education overhaul to centralized planning in Russia.

But Vitter, who in June declined to spell out his views on the academic goals, endorsed them so strongly on Friday that even Common Core backers were surprised. “As governor I would take an aggressive, hands-on approach, get curriculum and implementation right,” according to the senator’s statement.

“I’d ensure the state and locals maintain complete control over curriculum, lesson plans and reading lists and make good decisions on those,” Vitter said. “And I’d demand effective planning and preparation with parents, school boards and teachers.”

A spokesman for the senator said Friday he was traveling and unavailable for comment.

Vitter is considered a top GOP contender to succeed Jindal, who cannot seek a third consecutive term and who leaves office in January 2016.

Others in the contest are Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and state Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite.

Dardenne, who caused a stir about his stance earlier this week in a letter to the editor, insists that he backs Common Core.

Dardenne said the changes have been endorsed by the state’s top school board and Legislature “as a Louisiana standard.”

He also has blasted Jindal’s recent efforts to derail test plans.

Edwards said that, despite some concerns about implementation, he backs the new academic goals.

“The standards themselves are fine,” Edwards said. “Certainly there is no communist conspiracy. This isn’t some federal takeover of education.”

What impact Vitter’s stance will have on the Common Core debate is unclear, especially because Jindal will occupy the governor’s office for another 18 months.

However, Vitter’s strong endorsement could boost his election-year standing with Louisiana’s business community, much of which has been among the leading advocates of the overhaul in Louisiana and nationally.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie and one of the Legislature’s top backers of Common Core, praised Vitter’s stance. “That is right on target,” Appel said.

State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, one of the leaders of anti-Common Core forces in the Legislature, disagreed.

“I am very surprised and extremely disappointed in his position,” Geymann said in a text message response to questions.

“I suspect there will be a lot of folks searching for a candidate for governor,” he said.

Asked if Jindal wanted to comment, his office issued a prepared statement.

“Common Core has morphed into a club for the federal government to use to force states to do what they want,” the statement says. “We shouldn’t let federal bureaucrats dictate how Louisiana educates its children.”

The debate over Common Core in Louisiana has been a high-profile topic for the past year, with near daily developments in the Legislature and elsewhere for the past six months.

Lawsuits on the standards are pending in district courts in Baton Rouge, and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted earlier this week to intervene in the pro-Common Core legal challenge.

Backers say national academic standards will improve student achievement and allow for state-to-state comparisons.

Opponents contend the changes are top-heavy with federal interference and will replace local control of public schools with one-size-fits-all guidelines and exams.

Some critics have dubbed Common Core “Obama Core,” and even Vitter wrote recently in a fundraising letter that he was prepared as governor to lead on issues, including “heavyhanded big government education policies like Common Core and all the rest.”

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