SADOW: Another Trip On The Common Core Tightrope For Jindal

As the 2014 Louisiana Legislature regular session closed, Gov. Bobby Jindal has strived to have it both ways on the Common Core State Standards, and has a chance to reinforce that soon with a by-product of the session.

Jindal at one time gave understated support (the only kind given for so long since there was no controversy attached to it until about a year ago) to this framework agreed upon by most states for concepts to be taught in schools, but earlier this year reversed course and disavowed both the testing regime Partnership for Accountability and Readiness for Colleges and Careers (largely developed from the state’s previous testing framework) for CCSS and CCSS itself, saying they risked too greatly forcing Louisiana into following a national curriculum. He appeared to be egged on by some legislators, special interests, and concerned parents, first by a claim that he could back out the state unilaterally from participating in PARCC, then by the observation that promulgated rules for PARCC administration he could veto.

The contract withdrawal strategy seemed questionable as it also would take the acquiescence of Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Pres. Chas Roemer and Superintendent of Education John White, who have backed steadfastly CCSS and PARCC. But the Administrative Procedures Act clearly gave Jindal the ability to veto the regulations which, for whatever reason, were issued only in early May. This meant that Jindal had until the end of that month essentially to reject them, which would restart the process. Theoretically, this loop could continue indefinitely and presumably CCSS/PARCC opponents could use the time to induce the state’s withdrawal from them.

However, it also would throw the state’s educational delivery into chaos, not knowing what would be assessed and therefore not knowing what to teach, and could lead to a legal violation that requires the state to use nationally-standardized exams in its assessment by a certain date. As such, practically deferment by Jindal would prevent a train wreck of this nature.

And, for whatever reason, the deadline came and went without any action on Jindal’s part, although he never acknowledged that he had considered this and only said that he would review possible administrative actions if the Legislature failed to act to remove the state from participation. It now has, with that same clock ticking to expiration also eliminating this opportunity to accomplish rejection through his inaction, which brought him criticism from PARCC opponents.

With the contract withdrawal strategy also appearing unlikely to succeed, this still remains available for Jindal to attempt a symbolic blow against CCSS. He could try this, although if both sides retain their resolves inevitably it would wind up in court with anything but deciding in favor of keeping the contract intact highly improbable, and thus would devolve into a waste of time and resources. Yet not to try encourages amplifying the critique that he’s all talk but no action on this issue. This perception damages his political standing among that constituency, whose support could prove helpful in his final 18 months in office and/or for any future electoral endeavors.

So it seems fortunate for him that an escape valve of a kind appeared from the Legislature at its end. HB 953 by state Rep. Walt Leger would codify into law and extend an exemption from two to three years for schools to use data from a national standardized exam (planned to be PARCC) in computing accountability measures if that use lowers their scores and in computing teacher evaluations. These measures already were promulgated by BESE for the shorter period.

Obviously, the bill must go to the governor for his disposition, and CCSS opponents now clamor for Jindal to veto it, because it reaffirms that the state will use PARCC. This provides the perfect pitch out over the middle of the plate for Jindal to blast out of the park: he reaps all the benefits of credibly asserting he took action to reduce the impact of CCSS, yet it does nothing to stop adoption of PARCC and actually speeds up its full evaluative use by a year – meaning because of the extant rules it still won’t go that far until he has left office. And, BESE could accomplish everything in the bill through rulemaking simply by extending its current manifestation by a year. There’s no cost to anyone with a veto.

Such an action within the next three weeks provides further demonstration of how Jindal has tried to finesse the issue. He articulates his opposition to all things CCSS, and this veto would become the strongest signal to date, yet the implementation of it continues unabated. He then can construct a tale whereby he fought against it utilizing whatever powers he had, which did not turn out to be enough to derail it.

Of course, there are informal powers he could have deployed, such as putting the screws on legislators recalcitrant of negating CCSS or threatening BESE members he will work against their reelections (after having helped some of them previously) unless they recant on CCSS, but he didn’t. Undoubtedly this would have required a huge expenditure of political capital to pull off with no guarantee of success and, given other policy priorities, easily could be argued as an instance of discretion being the better part of valor. Still, it was not tried.

Jindal may hope his dealing with this issue has pleased all sides of it in some way and where casting this veto may preserve that balancing. The problem with walking this kind of tightrope is you can end up falling off it in pleasing none.

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