To the casual listener, it sounds as if John Bel Edwards plans, if elected governor this fall, to fire the state superintendent of education.
Edwards criticized Superintendent John White — formerly an administrator in New Orleans and New York City schools — as “not qualified to be a middle school principal” in Louisiana.
It is not the first time Edwards and White have clashed. The Democratic representative from Amite has frequently backed bills opposed by the superintendent, and vice versa. We believe that White has been more often correct on the merits of the policies that have, in our view, positively enhanced public education in Louisiana.
As a leading member of the House Education Committee, Edwards knows that the decision on the next superintendent is not his alone. The superintendent is picked, and has a contract with, the 11-member state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
BESE is of course heavily influenced by the governor — just look at White’s selection. When his predecessor Paul Pastorek left unexpectedly, the young head of the Recovery School District was picked by a board with close ties to Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Jindal had supported many of the elected BESE members in their campaigns and had three direct appointments on the board. White and Jindal then were on the same page on adoption of new Common Core standards and broadly on the governor’s other education policies.
Edwards is a fierce critic of the Jindal policies and would doubtless roll many of them back if elected and if he can muster the approval of the Legislature and with BESE.
The latter are elected this fall, too, and it is not clear that Edwards — even if elected governor — will have the time and influence to affect the BESE races on the same ballot.
Moreover, this is not a straight-up Democratic candidate versus a largely Republican BESE fight. Not only has Jindal flip-flopped on the Common Core issue, but two Republican candidates for governor — Scott Angelle and David Vitter — share the opposition to the new standards voiced by Edwards. Another Republican, Jay Dardenne, is alone in standing up for the tougher academic standards that White and state educators have put into place.
Common Core is one issue, but Edwards — his wife is a teacher — has more generally pushed the teachers unions’ criticisms of other Jindal education policies; under Jindal, with White’s support, the state has greatly expanded charter schools and a tuition voucher program for private schools. The Republicans, broadly speaking, are backing those Jindal policies, even the candidates at odds with White over Common Core.
We don’t know how the election will turn out, but even if it turns out as Edwards wants it to, the fact is that White’s supporters on BESE, if returned to their own offices, might have a lot to say about whether the superintendent stays or goes.