Potential presidential contender Gov. Bobby Jindal was in Washington again Monday, burnishing his national education policy credentials at a Heritage Foundation forum on school choice.
The Louisiana Republican, who was a proponent of Common Core before very publicly reversing his thoughts on the schooling standards, has long focused on education policy as a way to distinguish himself from the bumper crop of would-be 2016 GOP presidential candidates.
“The fundamental reason we care about public education in this country, historically, is that we live in a self-governing republic,” Jindal said at the start of the roundtable event, neatly tying together the two reasons for his visit: education and politics. “We need an educated citizenry that is able to make good decisions for themselves and others when it comes time for elections or choosing their leaders.”
In his 33-page plan titled, “K-12 Education Reform: A Roadmap” — 42 pages, if you count the title page, table of contents and five pages of end notes — Jindal lays out a plan with three overarching principles: Allow parents to make decisions about where federal dollars are spent on their children’s education, limit government intervention in schools and give teachers the power to come up with their own curriculum.
Jindal on Monday repeated his call for “repealing” Common Core. The Brown University and Oxford-educated governor has been dogged by his flip-flop regarding the state education standards initiative.
Jindal signed on to the initiative as governor in 2010, before changing his mind in late 2013. In June 2014, Jindal signed an executive order to withdraw Louisiana from the program. His education superintendent, John White, disagreed, saying Louisiana would continue with Common Core.
Since the reversal and the Louisiana tug o' standards, Jindal has become synonymous with the Common Core fight. But instead of pushing back against that narrative, Jindal is embracing it. He seems to be gambling that he can beat other candidates on the issue — particularly former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is generally supportive of Common Core — and that he can win on education by making it a larger argument about opportunity, government and the future of conservatism.
“I think it’s important for our party to be consistent with our principles,” Jindal said Monday. “We’ve always been a party of opportunity and growth. And I don’t think we need to pander. I don’t think we need to change our principles.”
Voters are looking for leaders, he said, “bold enough — honest enough — to tell them the truth.” Part of that truth, in Jindal’s telling, is an evolution of thinking, in political parlance, on Common Core.
Jindal noted the program initially was presented to him as a state-led, voluntary effort for higher standards in education. “I’m all for that,” he said.
“What disturbed me about Common Core is that it wasn’t what they told us it was going to be,” Jindal said. “It was a bait-and-switch.”
Jindal said he had a problem with handing state control over education curriculum to the federal government — as well as a problem with the curriculum and standards themselves.
Jindal talked about his son learning “Common Core math” — a term of derision and ridicule in conservative circles — and, when required to show his work for math problems like 18+4, he would write, according to Jindal, “Just because it is.”
Tautologies aside, Jindal said it was hard to argue with his son. “I couldn’t reprimand him because he was right,” he said.
While Jindal ponders entering the the 2016 fray, he trails in early polls. In the most recent Bloomberg/Saint Anselm College poll of New Hampshire voters, Jindal was in ninth place among Republicans with 3 percent — the same amount of support as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Donald Trump.
But Jindal didn’t sound worried. “If I were to decide to run, it would have nothing to do with polls or fundraising or whatever,” Jindal said. “When I started my first race, I was at 2 percent, which is within the margin of error.”
“But the reality is,” Jindal continued, “this election, I don’t think, will be decided by the insiders.”
He said he didn’t believe voters wanted donors or the political establishment picking a candidate and clearing the field, even though a crowded GOP primary could get messy.
“Well the reality is democracy is messy,” Jindal said. “And voters — there’s going to be a severe backlash if the party leaders think they’re going to pick the candidate. I think this is going to be a long process.”
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