Bobby Jindal: The right's unlikely Common Core hero

Story highlights

  • Just a few years ago, the governor of Louisiana was an enthusiastic supporter of Common Core
  • Now, Bobby Jindal is leading the charge against the program
  • Why the switch? "It wasn't what we had been promised"

Washington (CNN)When Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal recently finished a speech blasting the Common Core education standards, a room full of activists from the conservative American Principles Project jumped from their seats in applause.

Less than a year ago, they might have rushed for the door.
The scene of Jindal railing against Common Core -- the education standards embraced by more than 40 states -- stands in stark contrast to his enthusiastic approval of the program when it was first introduced. Jindal proclaimed to business leaders in 2012 that Common Core "will raise expectations for every child."
    In a short time, Jindal has gone from serving as a steward of the Common Core standards to one of the nation's chief critics. But what's more remarkable is that conservatives -- known for seeking ideological purity in their politicians -- aren't blasting Jindal as a flip-flopper as he considers a 2016 presidential run. Instead, they see him as uniquely positioned to be a leading advocate for their cause with the governor's office to back up.
    Indeed, many on the right have accepted Jindal's repentance and are propping him up as an unlikely model for the anti-Common Core movement.
    "Of the governors, he's been the most active in speaking out on the issue," Emmett McGroarty, APP's education policy director, told CNN. "Quite frankly, he is the governor who has done the most to remove his state from Common Core."
    This week, Jindal released an education proposal through his nonprofit advocacy network, "America Next," that in part recants his support. The paper seeks to absolve Jindal of his previous position by claiming he had been misled through "deception."
    "It was a bait-and-switch," Jindal told reporters Monday at a luncheon at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "It wasn't what we've been told. It wasn't what we had been promised."
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    But how did Jindal go from championing the program to becoming one of its leading opponents?
    In 2012, after Jindal and other governors implemented the program, Common Core became a lightning rod issue among grassroots conservative activists who bemoaned it as a "federal takeover of education." In 2013, Jindal began expressing concerns about the program after his staff held meetings with Common Core opponents in the state.
    While some of the most vocal opposition to Common Core came from conservatives worried about increasing federal control of local education, many parents also voiced concerns about the substance of the curriculum, particularly noting that their children found it confusing.
    Other savvy Republicans, particularly those with White House-sized ambitions, began to take note. At conservative gatherings over the next year, Common Core grew into one of the most talked-about issues. Suddenly, almost every conservative who had ever hinted at having presidential ambitions wanted to make it clear that they opposed the new standards.
    Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who once supported Common Core, came out against it.
    The rallying cry "repeal Common Core!" became -- and remains -- a consistent crowd-pleaser in speeches by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
    In the context of the burgeoning presidential race, the opposition has one added bonus: It lets Jindal use Common Core as a proxy to outline a case against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a consistent Common Core supporter who has also shown interest in running for president.
    Jindal didn't become one of the movement's biggest proponents overnight. Activists cite his leadership and what they describe as tireless advocacy as handing the anti-Common Core movement new momentum.
    Anna Arthurs, a mother with school-aged children who has helped lead the grassroots push in Louisiana, said she first met with Jindal's staff in September 2013, bringing detailed information about the ills of Common Core.
    Over the next year, Arthurs and other activists lobbied legislators in Louisiana and the governor's staff to gather support. Finally, frustrated with the lack of results, Arthurs reached out to her legislator and demanded a meeting with the governor — and she got it early that summer.
    That first meeting came around the time when Jindal began to express his firmest opposition to Common Core.
    And when he flipped, Jindal flipped hard.
    By May 2014, Jindal began comparing the way Common Core was being implemented to "central planning" in Soviet Russia. Amid a separate education battle with the Department of Justice over the use of school vouchers in Louisiana, Jindal began to accuse Democrats of standing "in the schoolhouse door to prevent minority kids," comparing them to segregationists who fought against the civil rights movement in the 1960s and blocked black students from attending classes with white students.
    Arthurs, who sat next to the governor at the APP event last week, said that she believes Jindal's conversion was "genuine" and doesn't blame Jindal for his initial opposition.
    Instead, activists claim that Republican governors were duped by a massive public relations campaign and pressure from the National Governors' Association urging them to sign onto Common Core to secure funding for their cash-strapped states.
    "I don't really blame the governors," Arthurs said. "They heard an informercial... and they were all picking up the phone and ordering the product before it really ended. ... They didn't stop to ask the question: has this been tested?"