Losing ‘the war of ideas’

Bobby Jindal
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (L) speaks to members of the press after a State Dining Room meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House February 25, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/getty
A couple of weeks ago, Peggy Noonan appeared on one of the Sunday shows to argue that, internal turmoil notwithstanding, it’s Republicans who are brimming with new ideas, unlike those rascally Democrats. She didn’t mention what those new ideas might be, which is a shame – I would have loved to have heard more about them.
As it turns out, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) raised a related point yesterday, appearing on “Fox News Sunday” and arguing that his party needs to “win the war of ideas.”
The Republican Party doesn’t have to change its principles, he said, but it needs fresh new policy positions – and education reform embodies a new cause for Republicans.
Vouchers that allow children to transfer out of failing public schools and into private schools on the public’s dime, new accountability measures, A-F grading systems for schools, dual enrollment programs and public-private partnerships that allow students to take courses from a host of providers are all new and successful ideas, he said.
To be sure, there’s a larger policy argument to consider when it comes to moving tax dollars from public school to private K-12 education, but let’s just quickly note three main areas of concern with Jindal’s pitch.
First, using public funds to finance private-school tuition is neither “fresh” nor “new.” The idea first arose in the deep South after integration began, and white parents sought tax dollars to pay for private schools that discriminated against black children. Vouchers have remained a staple of the Republicans’ education agenda in recent decades, despite failed experiments and broad public opposition. If this is Jindal’s idea of winning a “war of ideas” with innovative thinking, he may need to go back to the drawing board.
Second, the governor’s timing could be better. Just a few weeks ago we were reminded that for all the hype from conservatives “there’s little evidence” that the investing in vouchers “yields academic gains” for students.
And finally, given recent developments, Jindal should probably try to avoid this topic altogether. In May, the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down Jindal’s voucher plan as unconstitutional  It was a disastrous end for a voucher program that had been plagued by a series of problems, including directing public funds to “schools” with truly bizarre lesson plans, and financing religious ministries led by some, shall we say, eccentric pastors.
This is how the GOP intends to win the “war of ideas”? Good luck with that.