Chas Roemer, who chairs the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, has the perfect description of what has embroiled the state Department of Education this summer.
It’s a “fiasco” — caused by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has pulled out all the political stops to try to block BESE and the department from implementing the long-planned Common Core state standards and tests aligned to Common Core.
Roemer said the state constitution clearly gives test-setting authority to the board and the Legislature and that plans are already in place to quiz students and compare them with those in other states. “Now, we don’t live in a state where one man can overrule the constitution,” he said. “The procurement office was not meant to determine education policy in this state.”
We think Roemer is right, and he nailed what just about everybody in state government believes about the governor, that the latter is motivated by national political concerns.
“What is Common Core?” Roemer asked. “Common Core is high standards. Common Core is a message to the rest of the nation and the rest of the world that Louisiana is ready to compete.”
Yet Roemer also pointed out something that has been lost in this Jindal-manufactured crisis.
That is the areas of policy where Jindal is in agreement with Roemer, BESE and Superintendent of Education John White. In the last session of the Legislature, Jindal supported and signed legislation aimed at improving vocational education in schools.
That initiative, called JumpStart by the marketing geniuses at the Department of Education, is something that Roemer rightly pointed out should be consuming the time of White, but the Common Core battle is a distraction from that work.
Roemer did not mention another one, but it’s also in the same category: the 2014 Legislature’s changes in special education, also signed into law by Jindal. The idea, controversial among special education advocates, is to create easier paths to graduation for some special ed students.
In both cases, there are huge hurdles for the state ahead. Vocational education that is aligned with today’s fast-evolving workplaces is going to be challenging and potentially very expensive for schools. The special ed changes involve not only changes to local school procedures but potential conflicts with federal regulations and funding.
Along with the onset of a new school year in a few days, the Department of Education has plenty on its plate. But the nutritious policies it ought to be cooking up are all on the back burner because of the governor’s tantrum over Common Core.