Gov. Bobby Jindal is absolutely right to want to pull Louisiana back from Common Core, the dreadful set of national standards that will subject third-graders (among others) to tests as much as eight hours long. He may even have a decent legal case — meaning he might be able to avoid having courts block his executive actions — when trying to use the procurement-contract process to force abandonment of the Core-aligned tests.
Yet even if Jindal can get away with his end-run around Louisiana’s school board and Legislature, and even though his cause is philosophically and practically sound, that doesn’t mean he’s practicing good government.
The citizens of Louisiana enacted a state constitution in 1974 that gave primary responsibility for educational policy to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, with oversight by the Legislature and ultimate authority resting in the usual legislative process. Jindal’s evasion of those constitutional strictures is an abuse of the spirit of the state charter, and it threatens long-term harm to the balance of governmental power.
Legally, the governor is asserting his pre-eminence in the awarding of state contracts. (He says he is voiding BESE’s contract with the provider of Core-aligned tests.) Practically, he is trying to set education policy unilaterally, against the wishes of BESE, against his own hand-chosen state superintendent of education and against the evident wishes of a majority of a clueless Legislature of Louisiana Association of Business and Industry puppets. In doing so, he is showing similarly unfortunate, imperial tendencies as his archenemy Barack Obama, whose own executive overreach is being curtailed (thank goodness) at an unprecedented rate by unanimous Supreme Court judgments.
Jindal isn’t necessarily violating the letter of the state constitution, as Obama has on several occasions on the federal Constitution, but his unilateral abridgement of Common Core runs roughshod over Madisonian principles of executive restraint.
Those of us who fiercely oppose Common Core, but who think Louisiana’s governor already enjoys too many powers without encroaching on the intended role of BESE, thus find ourselves in a quandary.
Superintendent John White’s heedless arrogance notwithstanding, there is good reason why Louisiana and many other states enlist quasi-independent boards to set education policy. Education is a realm of uniquely personal interest, with parents entrusting their most precious hopes — their dreams for their children — to the care of teachers, administrators and policymakers.
Louisianans vote separately for eight BESE members — three others are appointed by the governor — specifically in order to hold those members responsible for education policy, without the intrusion of other considerations (taxing, gun rights, environmental regulations, whatever) to muddy the waters. If Bayou State citizens don’t like BESE’s decisions, they can vote to replace its members. If they want the Legislature to override BESE, they can use the ballot box to try to effect that change.
Jindal didn’t even make a legitimate attempt to defeat Common Core through the legislative process. In the past session, he merely filed so-called “green cards” in support of a few bills against Common Core, but at that time he offered slim explanation for his position and otherwise spent not a bit of political capital to persuade legislators. To have failed to make an effort legislatively, and then to follow with unilateral executive action, is to show an unattractive imperiousness.
On the other hand, White and BESE are playing with fire in readying a possible lawsuit against Jindal, while ignoring the heartfelt pleas of many thousands of parents rightly indignant about Common Core. As Politico reported, at least 17 states have backed away from using the Core-aligned tests this spring — including mega-states New York, Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan — with a half-dozen others possibly following suit.
“Often,” reported Politico, “the pushback has come from state legislators furious at the expectation that they would appropriate tens of millions for a test developed with federal funds and controlled by a faceless consortium — without a chance to consider competing products.”
Jindal is absolutely right that Louisiana should join that number taking the “go slow” approach. Rather than suing Jindal, BESE should negotiate with him a face-saving solution (for both sides) that delays everything about Common Core, including the testing. (The “compromise” BESE announced on Thursday, supposedly mixing and matching questions from the Core-aligned test with Louisiana’s previous exam, appears at first glance to be a misdirectional sham.) Then, during the delay, fight the battle over final adoption of the Core in the public eye, with ample public input, the way a republic is supposed to work.
New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he blogs at blogs.theadvocate.com/quin-essential.