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Prepping for 2016, Jindal Leads GOP Pack to Flay Common Core

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana 2011

Gage Skidmore

Mark Stricherz - published on 02/10/15

Louisiana governor contrasts education policies to those of Jeb Bush, another likely presidential candidate.
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WASHINGTON — Governor Bobby Jindal sought to raise his political profile as a leader of decentralized school reform Monday. Hopscotching around the nation’s capital, the Louisiana Republican drew an implicit contrast with his education policies to those of Jeb Bush, another likely GOP presidential candidate.

"It boils down to this question: Do you want moms—and essentially it’s moms who make this decisionto make these decisions? Or do you think bureaucrats in D.C. or Baton Rouge know best?" Jindal said at a daylong forum that Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina hosted at the Hart Senate Office Building.

Earlier in the day, Jindal attacked the education standards movement known as Common Core. "If I were to run, it would be not only on this issue, and I’m all for getting rid of Common Core, but for block grants to the states and tying funding to students," Jindal said at a breakfast briefing The Christian Science Monitor hosted Monday morning.

In the afternoon, at a lunch briefing, the conservative think the Heritage Foundation hosted Jindal called for a "bottom-up approach that trusts parents." Also, he released details of his education proposals in a 42-page white paper, "K-12 Education Reform: A Roadmap." The blueprint called for eliminating teacher tenure, withdrawal from Common Core, and greater school choice.

Reporters asked Jindal if he would run for president in 2016. At both the Christian Science Monitor and Senate events, Jindal did not deny interest and repeated that he thinks it is more important “what a president does in office” than who is in office.

Jindal was elected to the first of two four-year terms as governor in 2008. After Obama won his first term in office, Jindal was seen by party leaders as a politician who could give the Republican Party a fresh image. A first-generation Indian American, the 43-year-old Jindal was a young, non-white face in a party identified with older whites. 

to the State of the Union in 2009. Although pundits criticized his performance as inartful, Jindal has recaptured interest from close political observers by talking about a White House bid.

Jindal’s opposition to Common Core contrasts with Jeb Bush’s support for the state-by-state standards. Although Bush did not carry out the K-12 guidelines as governor of Florida from 2003 to 2011, he promoted them through a non-profit, Foundation for Excellence in Education. “The net result after 10 years of struggle, and believe me, the tire marks are on my forehead for this reason, is that we moved the needle in student learning,” Bush said at the Detroit Economic Club on Feb. 4.

As both governor of Texas and president, George W. Bush, Jeb’s older brother, helped lead the drive for national standards for elementary and secondary education. Congress approved the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. States were given federal funding in exchange for raising student test scores.

The law was designed to help poor states such as Louisiana. And Jindal, too, supported Common Core.  But last June, he signed an executive order to withdraw Louisiana from the standards. Jindal’s about-face attracted media attention. Yet Louisiana has ranked at the bottom on student achievement with and without the standards. More than two-thirds of the state’s 4th and 8th graders failed to reach proficiency in 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

A handful of other states have withdrawn from the standards too. But Jindal is the first likely Republican presidential candidate to make opposition to the two-decade old accountability program a centerpiece of his bid for the White House. His stand runs the risk of alienating general election voters. As recently as 1996,
Democrats held a commanding 78-22 advantage with voters who said education was their top priority. And George W. Bush used his support for federal school reform to reduce Democrats’ lead on the issue to eight points.

Unlike 1996 GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole, Jindal did not call for abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. "The Education Department should be involved in civil rights, accountability, and decentralization, and that’s about it,” Jindal said Monday.

Jindal, who is Catholic, has been outspoken about the importance of faith in the public square. Last month, he called for a deeper solution to America’s social ills. "We can’t just pass a law and fix what ails our country. We need a spiritual revival to fix what ails our country,” Jindal said at a prayer rally in Baton Rouge, the state capital. Some pundits have raised questions about Jindal’s electability in a general election. He opposes abortion in cases of rape and incest, a position which only one in five Americans share.

Jindal’s choice of venues suggest he thinks that becoming the public face of decentralized school reform will help him overcome this problem: He can appeal to both ordinary voters in a general election and Republican-primary voters. At the Christian Science Monitor briefing, Jindal was seated at a long rectangular table with political reporters from The Washington Post and NBC News. At the forum Sen. Scott hosted, Jindal spoke on a panel that featured not only Scott but also Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, and addressed an audience that included dozens of students from two nearby Catholic high schools.  At the Heritage Foundation, Jindal spoke to movement conservative activists and leaders.

After Jindal spoke at Scott’s event, he had the admiration if not the support of one former Bush official. Rod Paige, who served as Education Secretary from 2001 to 2005, said while he supports Common Core, he praised Jindal’s doggedness in the face of criticism.  “He’s a hero,” Paige said. “He’s got a thick skin. In public life nowadays, especially with all of the different audiences, you have to have a thick skin, and he’s got it.”

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