The conflict between the irresistible force and the unmovable object might be headed to a denouement sooner than realized, increasing the chances that Gov. Bobby Jindal turns out as the political loser.
This refers to the struggle between him and Superintendent of Education John White, Chairman of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Chas Roemer, and a majority on BESE, over giving standardized tests next year to Louisiana schoolchildren that align with the Common Core State Standards through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Jindal, after some former low-key support of the exams for years, now has become a high-profile critic of them, saying they threaten to allow too much federal intervention into the state function of education.
Unable to stop test administration through political or administrative means, as neither BESE nor the state Legislature agree with him, Jindal has resorted to bureaucratic ploys via executive order such as layering contract review provisions onto getting the test paid and into classrooms next spring. The sheer obstinacy and disruptiveness of the machinations to halt dissemination when clear majorities in the appropriate policy-making organs of state government favor use of the PARCC tests makes it a high-risk strategy, where any inability to stop this makes Jindal look petty and unlike a statesman, but where success may give him an aura of ability to get the job done in preventing what some consider bad policy from getting inflicted on the people.
His problem all along, and what has given White, Roemer, and the BESE majority the upper hand throughout is that Jindal can offer no alternative to PARCC in meeting a law signed by him two years ago that makes the state use tests that align to national testing standards. Unless Jindal decides to emulate Pres. Barack Obama and unilaterally suspend carrying out the law despite having no authority to do so, this is something he cannot get around – and Jindal is about the last person who would want to emulate Obama in anything concerning governing.
Still, by throwing up as many bureaucratic obstacles as possible, Jindal could have hoped to put his opponents on this issue into a sitzkrieg, where out of sheer exhaustion as he threw up multiple obstacles they relent eventually. But that possibility has become reduced dramatically when an option first mentioned in this space got put into play – apparently an offer by PARCC to get the publisher to give the state the tests for free, at least for a year (and by the spring of 2016 Jindal will have left office anyway).
This leaves Jindal with absolutely no leverage. No state money is expended, so the contract process gets skipped, and, given the state’s constitutional division of powers, there’s nothing his administration can do to prevent the exams from showing up on computers in schools ready to be taken. If it comes to that, then the only thing that Jindal wins could be a moral victory, by demonstrating he held steadfast even if going down to defeat. But the cost could be even higher, as former political supporters of his would become so disenchanted that he spent so much effort and appeared so stubborn to throw away political capital on something he could not win and was not even demanded by a majority of the public that he will be crippled in his final year in office, not the least reason of which would be their abandonment of deferral to him as a policy leader. Plus, to some members of the public across the state he may seem ineffective and out of touch.
That may not be on his mind – Jindal may think that whatever loss he suffers at home may be worth a raised national political profile – but to discount those consequences would be a mistake. Presenting a failed rearguard action at home and irrelevance in his last year in office as a consequence might sell to a national audience as valorous on ideological grounds – except that no compelling conservative case can be made against Common Core. Arguments can be made, and on both sides of the issue, but neither set of them definitively nor overwhelmingly align with conservatism, much less are able to unite Jindal’s natural ideological allies. Without that unity upon which to fall back, any argument trying to justify the failed attempt to a national audience falls flat.
This week, in probably what is designed for show more than anything else, Jindal and White are to get together. White may well inform Jindal that he can get PARCC into the classroom and there’s nothing Jindal can do about it, and his department may go to court anyway over the executive orders. If White does this and credibly, by continuing on his present course Jindal takes only a minor loss, where at least he can say he stood up for what he sees as right even if he couldn’t pull off the win, and likely turns it into for him a politically far slower and more costly defeat.