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A Case for Crumbling Schools - Gov. Jindal’s Path to Educational Success - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hear the Echoes No. 37


A Case for Crumbling Schools


Gov. Jindal’s Path to Educational Success





Louisiana is one of only nine states that provides no support for local school districts in the area of school facilities. In Louisiana, local school districts are made to shoulder the entire burden of funding, financing, and planning the construction and renovation of school buildings.

Quite predictably, this system results in unhealthy, dangerous conditions in schools in areas with a small or poor populations that are unable to generate adequate tax revenue—areas like Avoyelles Parish. (Cowen Institute-Tulane University)

The average capital outlay per student in Louisiana amounts to $645.  Average southern regional spending per pupil is $1,090, and for the nation it is $1,086.  Cowen urged the Louisiana legislature, in 2008, to create a "School Building Authority” charged with development of a formula and mechanism to assess and priorities applications for funding for local projects, and ensuring equitable allocation of funds to local school districts

In 2007, the Louisiana house passed then-Rep. Cheryl Gray’s HCR 230  that would create a taskforce to study and review best practices for determining condition of school facilities and determining needs.

In 2008 BESE adopted a report calling for such an authority and Sen. Cheryl Gray and then-Rep. Karen Carter Peterson introduced SB 632 and HB 962 creating a statewide education facilities authority within the Louisiana Department of Education.  Peterson’s bill would have created a special facilities fund in the State Treasury for use by the facilities authority.  With unanimous support, the Legislature passed both bills in June 2008.  Gov. Jindal vetoed both bills.

During the 2009 regular session the legislation was again introduced (SB90).  The facilities bill failed to report out of House Appropriations, but the Legislature passed HB 689 creating the Louisiana Statewide Education Facilities Fund.  The bill became Act 226 of 2009.  This is a façade without a corresponding statewide assessment and fiscal authority. 

During the 2010 session, Sen. Peterson introduced SB 584 meant to create a Statewide Facilities Authority and again the Legislature adopted the bill and again Gov. Jindal vetoed it.

The Cowen report concluded that "…The State of Louisiana allocates a relatively low amount of funding for public education in the MFP, and as a result, local communities in Louisiana already take on a relatively higher share of obligation for providing for public schools.  Compared to other states in our region, local communities in Louisiana are made to contribute a higher amount toward public school funding.”

                The current school facilities conditions may not yet constitute a crisis to Gov. Jindal.  However, as the administration persists in its movement to convert Act 35’s (the Recovery School District) interim education agency status to one that takes over increasing numbers of schools for permanent state operation, that view may change.  How much of the Katrina recovery cash was spent to replace walls that fell down from termite infestation when Promethean boards were hung on them ?


                Can Gov. Jindal’s blind, ideologically-based anti-tax disposition continues to ignore the fact that a majority (59%) of Louisiana voters responded to the LSU survey in 2011 agreeing that the repeal of the Stelly Plan was a bad idea.  Even The Public Affairs Research Council reported that the Stelly Plan did exactly what it was designed to do. 

                Perhaps it is asking too much to seek a restoration of the Stelly Plan and to dedicate a sizable portion of it to modernizing K-12 education’s crumbling facilities.  The LSU survey reveals that 56% of respondents support reinstating the Stelly income tax provisions.

                National emergence from the great recession coupled with resumption of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Haynesville and Tuscaloosa Marine Shale suggests that near term revenue shortfall may be ending.  Rationally, one should use the intervening time to plan for that time when state revenue collections allow for meeting the state’s pressing needs. 

                Lack of forethought by the administration likely accounts for the drop from 47.5 percent to 42.5 percent of Louisiana residents who find the state is moving in the right direction.  Even more telling than the five point drop is the 14.5 percent downward shift in confidence that government will effectively address more important problems.

                Education was identified by 24 percent of respondents to the LSU survey as a top concern.  Gov. Jindal avows that his top priority for the 2012 session will be education.  Current news is that there is a probability that further cuts will be needed to the state budget.  A plurality of Louisiana residents (46 percent) prefers dealing with budget shortfalls through a combination of budget reductions and tax increases.  Fully 40 percent of LSU polled respondents believe budget cuts have already gone too far.

                While Gov. Jindal’s administration acts as if it obtained a strong mandate in the recent re-election, the point has already been made that fewer than 38 percent of eligible voters cast a vote and the Jindal vote amounted to less than 24% of those eligible to vote.  Only once in his political career did Gov. Jindal draw a smaller vote total.

A strong "silent majority” in the last election will be watching.  Students, parents, teachers, principals, school board members and all concerned citizens should be alert to how "reform” as defined by Gov. Jindal will impact the state’s future.

A letter grade report of school performance, coupled with a new common core standards definition, a still to be developed testing regime, and a teacher evaluation system that the National Research Council finds ill suited for that purpose should serve as hurricane warnings of troubles ahead.

Does it, for instance, seem reasonable that The J.S. Clark Magnet Elementary in the City of Monroe scored 119.9 SPS earning a B-Minus, while John L. Ory Communications Magnet in St. John the Baptist Parish earned an A-Minus with a 120? 

The rank ordered listing of SPS for 2011 shows that there are 27 alternative schools earning "F” scores of the 115 schools listed as "F”.  The alternative schools constitute 23 percent of all "F” scores in the state.  Another 28 of the "F” schools are operated by the State’s Recovery School District.  Thus, almost 44% of the failing schools are interim operations.  Alternative schools serve troubled children who are suspended or expelled from regular schools.  Most alternative school students will return to regular schools.  RSD schools, according to Act 35, are interim education agency operated. 

The National Association of Scholars recently released a report pointing to evidence that grade inflation over time that might be misleading. 

Louisiana children’s future should not depend on an experimental reform that is based more upon ideology than on formal peer-reviewed education research, any more than they should continue to be housed in mostly substandard school buildings.


Don Whittinghill




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