I admit it. When I logged in to my email first thing Wednesday morning, I had to rub my eyes and reread the news release from Gov. Bobby Jindal two or three times. Was I still half asleep, I wondered, and slowly coming out of one of those weird dreams where something recognizable turns surreal?
Nope. There it was, plain as day. Jindal had up and sued the federal government for allegedly coercing Louisiana to voluntarily and enthusiastically adopt the Common Core education standards and join a testing consortium that it helped create.
By linking federal “Race to the Top” funding to the adoption of competitive standards and funding the creation of the tests used to measure performance across state lines, Jindal argued, the Obama administration has crossed a “line in the sand” and “constructed a scheme that effectively forces states down a path toward a national curriculum.”
All of which led to my second, more clear-minded reaction: Never stand between Jindal and a wall, because he’ll throw anything and everything he can find at it.
The wall, in this case, is not only Common Core, the scourge that Jindal himself did so much to bring to Louisiana, but also the educational and political establishment that’s showing no sign of crumbling in the face of his newfound alarm.
So today, Jindal would have us believe, Common Core amounts to a constitutional crisis, a violation of the 10th Amendment and states’ rights. Earlier this summer, when he tried his hand in state court, it was a supposedly a technical procurement scandal. Last spring, when the governor weighed in on legislative efforts to repeal Louisiana’s participation, it was a policy dispute.
The claims in this week’s federal lawsuit are as fanciful as any Jindal’s trotted out so far. There is no national curriculum, as he claims. The federal government routinely ties financial support to state policies, not just in education but in areas such as health care, highway funding and more. And nobody made Louisiana adopt Common Core in the first place; four states didn’t, and several more have since decided to pull out, although a vast majority are still on board.
And here’s another farfetched claim from the lawsuit. It says that Jindal filed the suit in his official capacity as governor, “and on behalf of the State of Louisiana.”
As everyone who’s been watching Jindal’s slow-motion flip-flop over the past year or so knows, he’s tried repeatedly to get the state to go along and has struck out every time.
Say this much about the states that have dropped Common Core: at least they arrived at the decision through the democratic process.
But Jindal’s failed at the Legislature, where his own former allies helped head off a move to pull out of the testing consortium. He’s failed with the state board of education, where a majority — again, led by people he appointed and helped elect — has stood firm against his attempts to change course. He’s failed with key interest groups such as the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which is led by a former top advisor. He’s failed in state court, where two different judges have found legal challenges to Common Core without merit.
And he’s failed, from all appearances, on the bully pulpit. If Jindal’s complaints were changing any minds and eating into support for Common Core, it’s unlikely that the two major Republicans running to replace him, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, would have made such a point of distancing themselves and disavowing Jindal’s behavior.
So Jindal may have filed the suit in his official capacity, but he’s never so blatantly acted in his de facto role as presumed presidential candidate. There may be limited support for his actions at home, but there’s plenty among the ideological activists he hopes will buoy his national effort. A new poll by the journal Education Next found that Common Core has strong support among Democrats and moderate Republicans across the country. A plurality of those who call themselves slightly conservative also back the standards. The drop-off comes among those who say they are either conservative or extremely conservative.
Still, there doesn’t seem to be anything preventing Jindal from suing on behalf of his constituents, no matter how many of them disagree. Or for that matter, from sticking them with the bill.