Superintendent of Education John White got his job with the backing of Gov. Bobby Jindal, but two years later, the men are increasingly at odds and appear to be drifting further apart on education policy.
The rift centers on Louisiana’s shift to Common Core standards, and comes largely because Jindal did an about-face, moving from strident supporter to critic of the reading, writing and math benchmarks adopted by most states.
But the fissure, which has developed in the most recent legislative session, is a striking contrast to 2012 when White served as a sort of Jindal proxy before the Legislature, helping to muscle through the Republican governor’s sweeping education changes.
Both men downplay the disagreements, saying they simply have some differences of opinion.
“I support him. I think he’s doing a great job as superintendent of education. But that doesn’t always mean I’m going to agree with every single thing he does,” Jindal said recently.
White offered similar sentiments. He said he and the governor’s staff speak daily about education issues and regularly sit at legislative committee tables with the same stance on policy.
“The governor obviously has his opinions. We agree on a great deal, and in this case we didn’t, and that’s fine,” White said Thursday.
Jindal is not White’s boss. The superintendent was hired by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and its members decide whether to keep him on the job.
But White, former leader of the state’s Recovery School District and a former New York City schools administrator, got the state superintendent’s job after the governor pushed his hiring for more than six months.
The BESE vote in January 2012 came only two days after the board’s new term began, when several members who had opposed hiring White were replaced by Jindal allies. The education board didn’t do a national or statewide search or formal application process.
And after he took the state superintendent’s job, White’s policies seemed to dovetail with Jindal’s education agenda for the following legislative session, when the governor made far-reaching elementary and secondary education change his top priority.
The two men worked together to win passage of bills creating a statewide voucher program that uses tax dollars to send students to private schools, expanding the ways to create charter schools and changing the teacher tenure process.
Until recently, they also were in agreement on Common Core.
BESE agreed in 2010 to phase in the more rigorous standards. White, a majority of BESE members, business leaders and other supporters say the standards raise expectations for students and better prepare them for college and careers.
But Jindal, getting closer to a possible 2016 presidential bid, has taken a turn away from the standards. He’s aligned himself with tea party organizations and other conservatives who oppose Common Core and who could form a base of support for a national campaign.
Common Core critics say using the multistate standards shifts Louisiana to a nationalized education system that removes local control and threatens student data privacy.
Jindal, who signed documents in 2010 committing the state to Common Core and its associated testing, now says Louisiana should develop its own standards. He said use of Common Core has moved too quickly and parents should have more time to air their worries.
“We continue to support high standards and rigor in our classrooms, but with every passing day it’s becoming more and more obvious that parents have concerns with Common Core,” the governor said.
He added, “We’re also very concerned about federal overreach in general to education.”
Last week, Jindal said if lawmakers don’t scrap the standardized testing Louisiana is set to use from the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, he’d consider trying to remove Louisiana from the consortium himself.
White said attempts by Jindal and other officials to throw out the testing without having an alternative set of tests or plans for how to develop them “is really hindering progress for our teachers.”
The united front has disappeared.
Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.