Apr 5, 2014 3:02 PM by Melinda Deslatte
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - After months of sidestepping questions on whether Louisiana should continue its use of the Common Core standards, Gov. Bobby Jindal has edged into the legislative debate, saying the state should develop its own education benchmarks.
But people on both sides of the disagreement are wondering how hard the Republican governor will push to change Louisiana's educational course, after previously being a supporter of the Common Core.
The issue divides Republicans across the nation and puts Jindal at odds with his hand-picked education superintendent and members of the state education board he helped to get elected.
Jindal's office offered the governor's support Wednesday to two failed bills that could have allowed Louisiana to move away from Common Core and develop its own standards and standardized testing.
"We continue to support high standards and rigor in our classrooms, but with every passing day it's becoming more and more obvious that parents have concerns with Common Core," Jindal said in an interview Friday. "It's a mistake to ignore parents."
The bill by Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, would have created a 30-member commission to draw up new standards, with consultation from education experts and parents and final approval needed from lawmakers.
Jindal also backed a second bill by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, that would have prohibited Louisiana from using the standardized testing associated with Common Core.
The House Education Committee voted 12-7 against each bill, and as supporters of the measures seek to gain new traction for the proposals, it's unclear how much of a priority Jindal will make the most high-profile debate of the legislative session.
The governor didn't throw his full weight behind the effort to pass either Geymann's or Henry's bill during the committee debate.
His office submitted a card indicating support during the debate. No one from his office spoke to press for passage, and Jindal was out of state during the committee discussion, discussing national health care policy and fundraising.
Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Erath, who voted against the bills, said the governor's office never approached her about the proposals considered by the committee. She said she's not even clear on Jindal's position on Common Core.
"I never saw anything that he expressed to anyone other than he had concerns. What those specific concerns were that he had, I don't know. I never heard that," she said.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed in 2010 to phase in the Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states as a way to compare performance.
Supporters include business leaders, a majority of BESE members and Superintendent of Education John White. They say the standards raise expectations for students and better prepare them for college and careers.
Barry Erwin, president of the Council For A Better Louisiana, which strongly supports keeping the Common Core standards in place, said changing course now would disrupt classrooms and could leave students in limbo for years while new standards are developed.
"Whether (Jindal's) just dipping his toe into the discussion or not, I think one thing that is concerning is the governor's office was supporting some bills that we in the education reform community think would do some real harm to the reforms we have worked for," Erwin said.
Backers of Geymann's bill said the standards didn't get enough public and legislative review and implementation was poorly handled. Common Core critics said using the multistate standards shifts Louisiana to a nationalized education system that removes local control.
Four years ago, Jindal signed documents of support for Common Core. On Friday, the governor said he's concerned about a "federal overreach" in education. He said use of the standards has moved too quickly and parents should have more time to air their worries.
Jindal said he doesn't expect the House Education defeat of the bills to end legislative debate on Common Core.
"We're talking to more and more legislators, letting more and more people know our concerns," he said.
But how far he'll press for a change wasn't definitive.
"This is something where we want to hear the debate and we want to let the debate happen," Jindal said.
Geymann said he'll be asking for Jindal's office to push the issue with Republican lawmakers, in the hopes of gaining support for a change of course on Common Core.
"We think the administration is supporting our effort, but we are going to go back and visit them and make sure that they still support our effort," he said.
House Bills 381 and 558 can be found at www.legis.la.gov
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