SADOW: Jindal As Ahab

The kabuki generated between Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education with its superintendent of education picked by it John White continues with a string of announcements and an actual meeting between Jindal and White, but the advantage in the conflict held by BESE remains the same to the detriment of Jindal’s political effectiveness.

Last week, BESE made another apparent concession, after having said previously it would use state-derived questions for testing purposes, to Jindal in that it would restart the test procurement process. Jindal has ordered heightened scrutiny over that process, almost the only conceivable way in which a governor can influence even the implementation of education policy in the state as that policy-making is vested in the hands of BESE, because he claims using a national test by definition imposes national content on the state, even if it is not content but common standards being adopted by Louisiana and most states that the test would evaluate the degree of their achievement.

But just as the previous request really meant nothing granted, in that only the subject areas not covered by national testing would use Louisiana questions and BESE indicated national tests still would be used in English and mathematics, so also did this latest offer also give nothing up to Jindal’s insistence that the national exam developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careersnot be used for this purpose. BESE officers and White proclaimed that they voluntarily would start over, if allowed to immediately and wrap it up in three months, the procurement process again – knowing that because PARCC had discussed giving the exam to the state for its first year for free that it could come in with a bid of zero and automatically win. Even if that didn’t happen, the officers – whose offer antagonized the only three apparent (of 11 total members) BESE opponents of theCommon Core State Standards to which PARCC is tied – said the winning bid had to be for a test allowing for comparisons across states.

Just so, as legally the state is required to use such a test beginning this academic year under a law signed by Jindal himself. This represents an unimpeachable advantage that BESE has over Jindal in this showdown. Add to that the free offer from PARCC itself, and Jindal has almost no cards to play to stop BESE from imposing its will here.

And he has even fewer in that also last week BESE got a favorable ruling from Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell that it could hire outside counsel to defend any court actions that could come over the dispute – and for free. Former gubernatorial candidate Phil Preis volunteered at least for this month to act on behalf of BESE, not only countering a Jindal strategy of potentially using the legal process to stop BESE from moving on this, but also a Jindal tactic that tried to put limits on the ability of BESE to hire attorneys by trying to cap the amount paid in contracts to do that. The only leverage Jindal has left here is that technically the governor must sign off on contracts for legal defense, even if free.

Jindal’s position continues to deteriorate in a standoff. State law compels BESE to use a test that it is extremely unlikely that Jindal would not find falls under his conceptualization that national standards equal national content, and even if it tried to do otherwise, any state legislator, for example, could sue it to make it comply. A free PARCC instrument cuts Jindal out completely from any ability to stop its administration, even if only given away this upcoming year (because before the next round of testing Jindal will be term limited out of office). It’s apparent that substantively Jindal is highly unlikely to win, so the only motivation he would have to is to aim for a symbolic victory, by presenting himself as a go-down-blazing opponent of PARCC, thus by extension CCSS, who did everything he could, even if he failed, to stop its implementation in the state.

But if his ambitions for a future political career drive him to continue to hold out, the question becomes whether that does him any good if not whether he has passed the point of no return already. For every person who thrills to his never-say-die defense, there could be more who see that as a cheap political ploy where a vainglorious pursuit puts the state’s interests subordinate to his own, as is implied already bysome leading interest groups. His stance supports interests often opposed to him that will not convert them to become political boosters of him, while it sours erstwhile supporters of him on many issues – especially those on this particular issue where he used to support them on it – and makes them much less likely to go to the ramparts to help his agenda in the future. Again, it’s worth pondering whether by his continuance he has not made the issue his white whale that will lead his political career into an Ahab-like end.

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