With Gov. Bobby Jindal expected to announce a presidential bid Wednesday, he’ll have to confront his blatant flip-flop on state educational standards—especially since he’s signalled that he’ll cite his education record as a significant part of his campaign.
He first accepted the standards known as Common Core, but then Jindal tried to halt it through executive orders, leading his handpicked education superintendent to defy him. Jindal even filed a lawsuit against his own state, which was tossed out.
And he has filed a lawsuit against the feds, which is unresolved.
His sudden hatred for Common Core appears to be a policy contortion to please the national Republican primary base. Once a vocal advocate, he flipped stances—but then couldn’t get his own fellow Republicans in Louisiana to flip with him.
So Common Core remains in Louisiana.
Common Core, a set of English and mathmatics standards designed to improve the state of education nationwide, was initiatlly sponsored by the National Governors Association in 2009 and adopted by Louisiana with Jindal's support in 2010. Jindal maintained his support for the standards for several years, personally selecting Common Core proponent John White for the job of State Superintendent of Education.
But by mid-2014, Jindal was in the opposite camp, penning an op-ed in USA Today, comparing Common Core to Obamacare and centralized planning in Russia.
But while Jindal changed his position on a critical issue that he intends on highlighting in a potential presidential campaign, conservatives who support Common Core argue his inability to convince Republicans in the state to repeal the standards is revealing.
"The common core debate in Louisiana has raised some significant questions about Bobby Jindal's judgement and leadership ability. He flip-flopped on a big issue and wasn't able to persuade many of his allies to follow his lead, and that's quite telling," said Mike Petrilli, the president of the Thomas B. Fordham institute, an education-policy think tank. "[His change in position] has been a disaster, politically and substantively—it hasn't been able to gain traction in the state, and he hasn't been able to implement it in his state."
Petrilli, who describes himself as a conservative, said he "used to love Bobby Jindal," and admired the governor as a "a young policy wonk [who] rolled up his sleeves on a whole bunch of issues across the spectrum." But that changed, Petrilli said, when "over the past several years he seems to have changed his strategy, and it hasn't worked politically or substantively."
There have been several efforts to legislatively repeal Common Core, but none have been successful. Unable to enact legislative change, Jindal has turned to executive orders, then the courts. Last year, Jindal expressed his opposition to Common Core by announcing that he would sue the federal government over the standards, claiming that it was in violation of federal law and the Tenth Amendment.
Jindal acknowledges a shift in position, but says he changed his mind after it appeared the federal government was using Common Core as a means of coercion.
"Governor Jindal supported it when he believed it to be a state led effort. Later, when he discovered it was a centralized federal effort, he opposed it and began working to remove Common Core from Louisiana," said gubernatorial aide Mike Reed. "The federal government trapped states in Common Core and threatened them with economic incentive[s] and duress."
Some national conservatives are eating it up. Nationally syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt put the importance of Jindal's pending lawsuit on par with the federal court decision to hit pause on the president's executive action on immigration.
But Common Core supporters in Louisiana and elsewhere don't buy it, painting the change as an obvious political move.
"When Bobby Jindal became the governor, he was all in favor of Common Core. He changed, in my opinion, when it looked like there were people across the country that were pulling away from it," said Linda Johnson, who served as a member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from 1999-2011. "When you want something as badly as he must want, like he does with the presidential race… he wants to get on the same page with people who might support him."
Petrilli added, "I don't think you have to be a common core supporter to see that the flip-flop was transparently political, more about Iowa than it was about Louisiana."
Jindal's record and positions on education would play a "significant role" campaign should he formally jump into the race this week, an aide told The Daily Beast. Johnson, a Democrat, predicted that Jindal would run on two points from his record: not having raised taxes, and his opposition to Common Core.
"Should Gov Jindal decide to become a candidate, his record and positions on education would play a significant role in the campaign," Jindal spokesman Henry Goodwin said. "The Governor believes passionately in equality of opportunity, by creating high-quality education choices for the parents of all children."
But running on his education record highlights the flip-flop, judged by Politifact to be a 'Full Flop,' with all the liabilities that projects onto the candidate.
"Jindal was once an ardent supporter of Common Core (and one of the first adopters of the initiative) but has since become one of its staunchest critics, mounting lawsuits and legislation against the initiative," the fact-checking website wrote.
Jindal isn't just aiming for the tea party Republicans.
It's easy to view the dynamics of public opinion on Common Core through a partisan lens, said Ashley Jochim, a research analyst at the Center for Reinventing Public Education - but some Democrats are also starting to sound off against the standards.
"Early opposition was primarily driven by tea party groups. At this time, the opposition is much broader and politically diverse than that," Jochim said. "As [Jindal] enters the primary for the Republican nomination, he has changed his constituency in a big way from Louisiana to the broader group of states. Flip-flopping is not unexplainable."
Common Core represents "an issue where the [Republican] field is divided, there aren't that many issues on that," Petrilli noted, meaning that it would play an outsized role in his campaign. All the more reason, Jochim said, to make a big splash on the issue -- even if the lawsuits aren't going to get him very far.
"What he's doing is sort-of taking a big stand on this issue. In some ways he's using the bully pulpit to draw attention to his opposition. Some of what he's done is largely symbolic in nature," Jochim said. "He also hopes to win, as well… but whether it succeeds or not is less relevant: he's trying to make his position well known."