As his administration awaits a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of its school voucher program, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal had some harsh words for teachers unions on Tuesday, accusing them of perpetuating an unfair education system that benefits neither students nor educators.
"Were it not for the teachers unions' herculean efforts, every low-income family would have the opportunity to enroll their children into a better performing school -- a school that meets the unique needs of their kids," Jindal said during a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "It's time to bring American education out of the Stone Age and into the 21st century, a place where our choices are dramatically expanding, and a place where the old centralized government model is increasingly outdated and inefficient."
Jindal previously served, at 28 years of age, as the youngest ever president of the University of Louisiana system; he has made education reform the top priority of his second term in Baton Rouge.
Last April, he pushed through the state legislature a sweeping educational overhaul that included a voucher program to dramatically expand access to private and religious schools; reforms to teacher tenure rules; and the creation of a coordinated early education system.
Jindal said that he was "confident we'll prevail" on the voucher issue, the central aspect of the overhaul, which is being challenged in court.
On the day when Brookings released its annual ranking of American school districts --based on the choices they offer to students -- Jindal touted the progress he said has been made in his state since 2005, when 77 percent of New Orleans students attended schools deemed to be "failing."
"Since 2007, the last five years alone, the percentage of students in New Orleans that are reading and doing math at grade level has more than doubled," he said.
Jindal has begun to subtly position himself for a potential presidential run in 2016 and has increasingly sought to wear the mantle of an accomplished executive willing to speak hard truths to his own party.
As he tore through an approximately 5,000-word speech in just about a half-hour, Jindal devoted a portion of his remarks to a broader discourse about the state of the American education system.
"The United States of America does not provide equal opportunity in education," he asserted. He then asked the crowd to let those words sink in -- though he paused only for a second or two before making further points in rapid-fire succession.
"It is completely dishonest to pretend today that America provides equal opportunity in education," Jindal added. "We do not, and if you say that we do, you are lying. I would try to be more direct, but I don't know how."
The 41-year-old governor said that while he disagreed with some of the Obama administration's education initiatives, there are several that he supports, arguing that the issue is in large part a bipartisan one.
"To oppose school choice is to put the wishes of the adults who control the status quo ahead of the needs of children," he said. "To oppose school choice is to oppose equal opportunity for poor and disadvantaged kids in America."