Seeking to avoid further clashes with Gov. Bobby Jindal, three members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have proposed a compromise on next year’s testing plans — adopting part but not all of the tests aligned with the new Common Core standards backed by the board. Jindal’s top budget aide, Kristy Nichols, quickly expressed concerns about the proposal.
At first blush, the olive branch extended by BESE leaders Chas Roemer, Jim Garvey and Holly Boffy seems reasonable enough. But Jindal’s sudden hostility to Common Core is transparently political and not on the merits of the new, higher standards adopted by most of the states. So, he might see compromise as failing to send the proper signal to the anti-Core Republican activists to whom he would appeal in a putative run for president.
We wish any compromise well, as long as it preserves the essentials of higher standards for school performance. But even if one is worked out, it should not erase from the public’s mind the unethical abuse of power that has been the petulant governor’s response to the Department of Education and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The governor’s new position, against Common Core, was not adopted by the Legislature, the state department or BESE’s majority — so he has tried to use the power of the Division of Administration to interfere with operations of the two independent entities that did not agree with him.
First, his commissioner of administration, without any evidence we can see, alleged that contracts were improperly awarded by the department. Then, Commissioner Kristy Nichols issued an order that the division would require approval of every contract over $2,000 — a sum so low as to constitute a grenade thrown into the administrative machinery of any state department.
The division’s role is to administer state government. It builds the governor’s budget and, thus, is properly under the governor’s purview. But its administrative functions must be carried out in the role of an honest broker of state law.
The division’s administrative responsibilities are not a club to beat others into submission. Using its contract review authority in this way is a terribly bad precedent in state government.
The absence of any proof of wrongdoing, or even impropriety, speaks volumes about the political nature of Jindal’s actions. We think the latter are right about education policy in this instance. But process is important, because another governor might well consider this a green light for the division to micromanage a state office for even less noble goals than Jindal’s feud with Common Core.