Those who needed confirmation of Gov. Jindal’s designs on the White House got it in August, when he took the clamorous step of suing the U.S. Department of Education to stop the Common Core educational standards that he once championed.
The suit brings national attention to a mostly unknown governor from a state whose Electoral College influence squeaks in comparison to the roars of Texas, California and Florida. Jindal’s ambitions became apparent soon after the 2012 presidential race when he called the Republican Party the party of “Stupid” and the party of “No.” Those criticisms received national coverage but didn’t catapult him into the forefront of ’16 hopefuls, hence his decision to join the naysayers and adopt his own “No” campaign against education reform.
The Common Core standards were adopted by nearly all the 50 states, including Louisiana at Jindal’s urging. The standards, which outline knowledge and ability recommendations for every grade level, were praised countrywide by Republicans and Democrats as a way to raise the academic performance of America’s Kindergarten through 12th grade students, who are lagging behind other countries in academic achievement. Once the U.S. Department of Education began requiring their implementation to receive federal grants, however, ultra conservatives began denouncing them as a federal takeover of local school instruction.
Jindal’s sudden attacks on these standards border on bizarre, considering he has spent much of his second term in office building a reputation as an education reform governor. His adoption of the language of Tea Party activists has been viewed widely as political opportunism. By signing on to the myth that Common Core standards are a plot by the federal government to control state curricula, he has generated the kind of free publicity he needs to gain wider name recognition.
No potential candidates from either political party have made their plans official yet. However, with the first presidential nominating caucuses and primaries only 15 months away, hopefuls such as Jindal are making their interest known by speaking at party functions in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina – influential states that host the earliest nominating contests.
Jindal’s political move against Common Core may be particularly directed at Iowa Republicans, known for favoring fringe candidates who cater to the evangelical segment. Iowa is also the first contest of the election season. A strong showing there brings enormous media attention and boosts fundraising efforts. Failing there often means death to a candidate’s ambitions.
The anti-Common Core movement in Iowa recently led to the state’s withdrawal from a consortium developing plans to assess achievement of the standards. Omaha.com, an electronic newspaper covering Omaha, reported in August that a state taskforce is reviewing the state’s testing needs. According to Iowa’s Department of Education website, the state adopted the Common Core standards in 2010 and incorporated them into the Iowa Core.
Jindal’s attempts to stop Common Core in Louisiana have met with considerable resistance. He must have gotten the idea of suing the Feds and arguing executive overreach from the group of state educators and parents who sued him months ago and are arguing the same about him. At home, Jindal is the leader of a small pack of wolves howling at the moon. His own Republican-dominated Legislature has rebuffed attempts to halt the state’s involvement with Common Core, and his hand-picked education superintendent blocks his every move. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, stacked with his own appointees and one-time allies, also maintains support for the higher standards.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor, in fact, issued a statement in September that busted Jindal’s insistence that Common Core forces a federally mandated curriculum on state educators. The report, easily found on the auditor’s website, stresses the point that curriculum decisions are left up to Louisiana’s educators. “The choice of which materials teachers use continues to be a state and local decision,” it says.
Apparently Jindal thinks he’s got nothing to lose and a great deal to gain by switching sides. On the downside, his late August lawsuit and tirades against Common Core didn’t have much influence on a Sept. 6-10 CNN poll that showed him still swimming with the bottom-feeders in the affections of Iowa’s registered Republicans. The winner of that poll was Mike Huckabee, a former pastor, former governor of Arkansas and current Fox News talk show host, who took the Iowa contest in 2008 but trailed in most other state contests.
Huckabee’s strong showing at 21 percent almost doubled that of Paul Ryan, who garnered 12 percent, CNN says. Huckabee won the most support in Iowa as a presidential candidate even though he has urged Republicans on his talk show to stop the fight against Common Core and focus on its benefits to students.
Such early polling is practically meaningless, but the numbers were not good news for Jindal, who had just thrown his best punch a few days before.
In the 2012 Iowa caucus, super conservative Rick Santorum edged out Mitt Romney by a few votes, making the state’s record for picking party nomination winners 0-2 in the past two cycles. That record raises questions about why chalk-white Iowa, so unrepresentative of the country, has hosted the first presidential nominating contests for so long.
The odds of Jindal taking equally important New Hampshire, the second hurdle in the nomination sprint, are even less likely. His move to Tea Party rhetoric won’t help much in a politically moderate state.
If Jindal’s tactics work, he will be hailed as a brilliant political strategist. In the meantime, his actions create havoc in Louisiana, whose long-struggling schools require a consistently supportive governor.