When Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order last month attempting to end implementation of Common Core reading and math standards, he probably thought it was a good idea. Even when the preponderance of the evidence showed this wasn’t so.
Sure, Jindal knew that the public knew that he was opposing the standards after he enthusiastically supported them. Yes, his executive order ending Common Core implementation was opposed by his allies in the state legislature, friends at the state board of education, and even Supt. John White, who have previously backed his efforts on the education front. Jindal even understood that the executive order itself was legally questionable because in the absence of state legislation, only the state board of education and education department (which he did not control) could end implementation.
But as far as Jindal was concerned, it was all worth it. After all, by opposing Common Core implementation, he thought he would win support for his run for the Republican presidential nomination from movement conservatives who oppose the standards. Jindal also thought that by abandoning the standards, his allies among school choice activists within the reform movement (many of whom oppose Common Core out of a misguided fear that the standards would hamstring their ability to provide high-quality education in ways they see fit) would also rally around him; since a large portion of the school choice activist community vote Republican, opposing implementation would also win him some votes.
But as both opinion polls and a lawsuit supporting Common Core implementation filed yesterday by a group of seven families (along with two charter school teachers) along with the Choice Foundation (with help from Black Alliance for Educational Options), Jindal was clearly mistaken. Which should be a lesson to all politicians with aspirations for higher office (especially Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is looking to kibosh the Badger State’s implementation of the standards). Abandoning systemic reform and damaging the futures of children are not strategies for electoral success.
Even before the move to stop Common Core implementation, Jindal wasn’t exactly best-positioned for the Republican presidential nod. This past February, polling outfit Public Policy Polling determined that Jindal was the nation’s least-popular governor, with just a 32 percent approval rating after nearly seven years in office. Certainly the Indian emigre’s son is unpopular with traditionalists within the Bayou State, who opposed his sensible efforts to overhaul teacher evaluations and expand school choice. But Jindal’s penchant for high-handed behavior and viciously settling scores with rivals through the use of his line-item veto powers, along with a fecklessness on state finances that makes California Gov. Jerry Brown look like an old-school fiscal conservative, has also hurt him at home.
Meanwhile on the national level, Jindal finds himself in a crowded field of Republicans who either have stronger movement conservative profiles or better records on both school reform and government reform. This includes Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (whose instigation of last fall’s government shutdown has won him support from the rabble), his colleague in the federal upper house, Rand Paul (who has bolstered his prominence over the past two years with his opposition to further military efforts in the Middle East, as well as taking strong stances on sentencing reform), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (whose record as a strong reformer cannot be questioned), and the aforementioned Walker (who will likely win a second term despite being dogged by a corruption probe).
With low popularity numbers at home and unable to stand out in a crowded field of candidates, Jindal had to do something. So he seized on the opposition to Common Core among the motley crew of movement conservatives, hardcore progressive traditionalists, conservative-leaning school choice activists within the overall school reform movement, and teachers’ union bosses opposed to the use of standards-aligned tests in teacher evaluations. Betting that movement conservatives and choice advocates would rally around his cause (and bolster his presidential aspirations), Jindal reversed his support for Common Core and became part of the opposition.
Over the past few months, Jindal unsuccessfully pushed more-sensible state legislators to pass legislation to end implementation, and even vetoed a measure that would have kept the Bayou State’s Common Core implementation efforts in place while slightly amending the standards as Massachusetts and other states have done. Having failed by June to get his way, Jindal went nuclear. He issued the executive order canceling the state’s memorandum of understanding with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association to implement the standards, as well as demanding White and his staff at the state education department account for every dollar spent on implementation.
Jindal probably figured that White would continue implementing Common Core implementation — and even file suit against the governor for overstepping the limits placed on his role overseeing education policy. He also likely knew that both state legislators and the board of education would also visibly oppose him. Jindal even anticipated that one of his foes, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne a strong Common Core backer who was already sore with Jindal over his high-handedness (especially in stripping out of the budget $2 million in state tourism funding Dardenne oversaw) would also come out swinging. But Jindal figured that it would all work out to the benefit of his ambitions.
This hasn’t happened. Public Policy Polling’s latest survey of Bayou State preferences in presidential aspirants ranks Jindal in fourth place. Not only does Jindal’s 12 percent rating, trail Cruz (who gets 19 percent of voters surveyed) and Bush (with 17 percent), he even trails former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who isn’t even likely to run for the Republican nomination. Jindal likely couldn’t even carry his own state in a Republican primary. It’s no better on the national level: Jindal trailed eight other aspirants — including Paul, scandal-tarnished New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (a Common Core supporter who has been a strong leader on the reform front), and Bush — garnering just four percent of prospective New Hampshire voters in an NBC-Marist College poll. In Iowa, Jindal came in dead last.
All of Jindal’s grand-standing against Common Core has done nothing to win him support. Movement conservatives, who know that Jindal has flip-flopped his position on the standards, see him as just another cheap-suit politician, while moderate Republicans (who are divided over implementation) just don’t see him as a compelling representative of the party.
Even those movement conservatives who are also Jindal fans thought he overstepped his legal authority. Declared American Spectator writer Quin Hillyer in the Advocate: “[Jindal’s] unilateral abridgement of Common Core runs roughshod over Madisonian principles of executive restraint.” Especially for these conservatives, the goal of quashing Common Core implementation doesn’t justify the means. And for the more-principle minded within the conservative movement, Jindal becomes even more unattractive as a candidate because he is acting like their bete noir, President Barack Obama, who they loathe in part because of his penchant for using executive orders to go around Congressional opposition
Meanwhile Jindal hasn’t exactly won over school choice activists (along with Parent Power advocates) in his own state. In fact, they have thoroughly embarrassed Jindal over the past month by calling him out for opposing standards that can help provide Bayou State children — especially those from poor and minority backgrounds — with the comprehensive college-preparatory learning they deserve. Particularly for charter school operators such as the Choice Foundation as well as school choice advocates such as BAEO, implementing Common Core (and ensuring high-quality education for the vast majority of kids attending traditional district schools) is as important as expanding high-quality options so that families can escape failure mills.
Now, comes Navis Hill v. Jindal, the tort filed yesterday by the sevenBayou State families (along with Choice Foundation with help from BAEO) against Jindal and his staff to stop the governor’s effort to halt Common Core implementation. By working so hard to oppose the standards, Jindal has found himself opposing the very school activists and families (including those from poor and minority households) on whose behalf he has claimed to be working in his more-sensible school reform initiatives. Jindal has essentially turned his allies into opponents — and that won’t bode well for him politically.
But for Jindal, the problem isn’t just that choice advocates are opposing him on an issue on which he thought they would back him. The plaintiffs legitimately argue that Jindal’s executive order and efforts to quash contracts the state education department has already struck to roll out Common Core-aligned tests violate the state constitution, and that his decision has created chaos within the state’s public education system. Because Bayou State legislators have opposed Jindal’s efforts to quash Common Core implementation (and, in fact, have supported the standards), Jindal can’t even claim to be faithfully executing state law. As a result, the Navis Hill families likely have a far stronger shot of halting Jindal’s effort to quash Common Core than their allies in Oklahoma, whose similar suit against the halting of Common Core implementation was unsuccessful because that state’s supreme court ruled that they couldn’t legally question the policymaking privileges of the legislative branch.
Then there’s the hit Jindal has taken to his reputation as a strong leader on advancing systemic reform. Certainly Jindal’s high-handedness has won him foes. But until recently, he deserved credit for standing up and taking action to transform public education for Bayou State kids. It was his strong stance against the state’s educational ancien regime — going so far as to call out the executive director of the NEA affiliate for declaring that poor and minority families are too incompetent to make smart school choices — along with the strong lobbying of Parent Power and school reform groups, that led to the expansion of the state’s voucher program. He also proved himself ready to do the right thing. This included defending his reforms against lawsuits by the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association branches there, to finding funding for the voucher program once a state court judge invalidated the use of dollars from the state’s school funding formula for the purpose.
But by reversing himself on Common Core in the hopes of winning higher office, Jindal has tossed his entire legacy into the trash. By acting as a political opportunist instead of as a strong defender of high-quality standards, Jindal has made a mockery of every word he has spoken and every action he has taken against traditionalists. Even worse, by joining Common Cause with the likes of talk show host Glenn Beck and columnist Michelle Malkin (along with those who should know better such as Jim Stergios and Sandra Stotsky of the Pioneer Institute), he has also embraced the worst of their rhetoric.
Simply put, Jindal has behaved shamefully, and exemplifies perfidy instead of leadership. For that, he doesn’t deserve to be president, much less chief executive of a state in need of strong leadership to address its woeful performance in improving student achievement .
Within just one month, thanks to his opposition to Common Core, Jindal managed two spectacular feats: Further weakening his political aspirations, and losing the few allies he had left. Which, in turn, led to a third: Weakening his once-stellar legacy on advancing systemic reform for all kids. Walker and other politicos should think twice before following Jindal’s example.