If there’s one thing that seems to unite the warring factions that make up the state’s political class, it’s the firm belief that many of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s policies should be undone.
Legislators, Republican and Democratic alike, are in the process of enthusiastically passing bills that can be read as direct rebukes to the former governor. During the special session, they reversed the gimmicky SAVE Act adopted last year to allow Jindal to claim he hadn’t raised taxes when he really had. During the current regular session, they’re on track to ban governors from issuing big raises in their final days in office without legislative approval, as Jindal did despite a huge budget hole.
And even as Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature continue to grapple with the budget mess, there seems to be consensus that the state should expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare,” control the growth of the popular TOPS scholarship program, and try to rein in runaway business tax giveaways — all efforts Jindal had blocked. But there’s one area where Jindal’s legacy appears safe, and that’s K-12 education.
After his easy re-election campaign in 2011, the first thing Jindal did was push a massive education overhaul that promoted school choice. Among other things, his package strengthened charter schools and expanded the use of vouchers to pay for private school tuition.
Like many of Jindal’s other initiatives, this one dovetailed with the priorities of national movement conservatives he was trying to court in preparation for his ultimately failed presidential run. Unlike some of those other moves, though, this one seems to still have widespread support, even though a governor with a very different outlook now occupies the Capitol’s fourth floor.
For evidence, look no farther than the apparent failure of Edwards’ K-12 agenda, which included bills to limit new charters and curb eligibility for private school vouchers.
In hindsight, it’s really not surprising that these moves would run into trouble. Edwards ran for governor with early and strong support from teachers unions and local school board leaders, and he didn’t deny his priorities aligned with theirs. But he also didn’t actively promote his education agenda in speeches or ads aimed at a wider audience.
And despite Edwards’ easy win last November, other results suggest elementary and secondary education wasn’t an issue that drove voters to him. The same electorate that handed Edwards a decisive victory over David Vitter also chose a Legislature that generally favors charter schools and other components of the school choice movement that Jindal had championed. It also elected a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education majority that supports the so-called reform movement, and that is sticking with Education Superintendent John White even though Edwards said during the campaign that he should be replaced.
Weakening the governor’s hand still further is the fact that there are plenty of school choice proponents within his own Democratic base, particularly in New Orleans. His early failure to get his favored House speaker elected resulted in an unfriendly education committee in the lower chamber. And even in the Senate, where President John Alario made assignments aimed at giving the governor a chance to succeed, there was significant opposition.
The icing on the cake is that proponents of school choice remain organized and aggressive, even without a champion in the Governor’s Mansion.
Common Core may seem to be an exception to the lasting support for Jindal’s priorities, but it’s one that proves the rule.
The former governor once was a strong backer of the new education standards, which were designed to teach analytical thinking and allow Louisiana students to be compared to their peers nationwide. He reversed himself only after tea party activists and other potential primary voters started complaining that Common Core, which was developed by a bipartisan group of governors and state education leaders but also favored by the Obama administration, amounted to a federal takeover. Ironically, Edwards also was against Common Core, which was equally unpopular with his union supporters.
And sure enough, Jindal’s flip-flop created a clean break with his former reform movement allies in the Legislature and BESE, and with White.
As for Edwards and his bid to shift some power back into the hands of local school boards and restrict the use of vouchers, success probably was never in the cards.
Too many of the key players who once worked with Jindal on education still are there. And they remain as motivated as ever.