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Rush to Judgment in the Louisiana Legislature - Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hear the Echoes No. 43


Rush to Judgment in the Louisiana Legislature



Moves to Silence Critics


A Badly Flawed Reform



            There is no question that Louisiana public schools belong to the community.  Louisiana is one of but nine states in the nation without a single state dollar ever having been put into building a local school. 


            School boards and their top-guns, the local Superintendents, are responsible under the Louisiana Constitution for providing every individual may be afforded an equal opportunity to develop to his full potential.


            The state constitutionís Article 13C authorizes local districts to levy an ad valorem tax for a specific purpose, when authorized by a majority of the electors voting in  the parish, municipality, district, or sub-district in an election held for that purpose. 


            The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has adopted and sent to the Louisiana Legislature a proposed Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) that appears to be contrary to the language of Article 13 C of the Louisiana Constitution.


            At its annual convention, the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA) membership voted, overwhelmingly, to urge the local school boards of the state to adopt resolutions calling for a legal challenge to the proposed inclusion in the proposed MFP wealth factor calculations funds raised by special elections, for special designated purposes.


            Since the convention LSBA has been approached by the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, the Louisiana Association of Educators, and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers all of whom seek to become involved in advocating legal action to stop the proposed state action on the MFP.


            Creation of a Louisiana Education Legal Alliance seems in order to seek redress from an MFP that wrongfully causes misuse of public trust funds; that places into the MFP an open-ended voucher program that diverts state funds to private and church schools; and that opens every local public school budget to raids by two for-profit virtual charter schools.


            Since Gov. Bobby Jindal has brought about a consolidated executive/legislative initiative to fiscally starve local public education, a coalition devoted to represent the children, parents, school districts and other stakeholders would appear to be the only defense remaining to protect local public school children from untested experiments fostered under this administration.


            As voters in Louisiana continue to be misled regarding the success of administration  education reforms, public schools continue to carry out policy that bring about significant student achievement improvement.  The experiments of the current reform produce student achievement results that place their schools next to the bottom of a state department rank-ordered list.


            If the experiment in capitalist education reform is as successful as Gov. Jindal boasts, there should be no problem in sharing publicly an accurate and transparent student data base to enable mobility and longitudinal studies of students.  One should be able to answer questions as to why the education reform schools in New Orleans fail, in March of 2011, to test 16.67% of February 2011 enrolled students. 


            Standing against release of the data to permit answering such fundamental questions for months following a public records request implies a lack of anxiety to allow the truth about the education reform performance.


            Gov. Jindalís forces generalize that opponents of his plan are not to be believed as they are simply defending the status quo.  The opponents share the positive results of a reform movement that has been going forward for more than 10 years in local public schools.


            Outside experts in public education, when they are heard, seem to also view the education reform ideas with much doubt.


            When Louisiana was touted as a sure thing to receive Race to the Top (RTTT) funding, the education reform advocates praised the experimental program.  They pointed with pride to a teacher evaluation system that was rushed through the legislature as Act 54.  Leaders of the reform movement said it would enhance the stateís chances of reward for school innovation.


            However, comments of the official judges of the state RTTT concluded that "Louisiana will be implementing a new evaluation system, many aspects of which are still unclear.Ē


            Now Gov. Jindal seeks to use that evaluation system, found wanting by nationally recognized judges as being flawed, without proper pilot testing in accordance with Act 54.  The legislation was drawn in such haste that more than 100 technical amendments had to be acted upon by a House Education Committee that had not even read them.


            He proposes to let 51 percent of parents whose children are enrolled in a failing school vote to close or turn over to a charter the schools paid for by the community.  These schools donít belong to those parents, teachers or administrators.  They certainly donít belong to out-of-town community organizers flown in to organize petition campaigns.  They were built with public funds, and voted on by local citizens at large.  Florida parents got it right this when they killed a parent trigger proposal in the legislature.


            Most of the public news media in Louisiana have routinely granted Gov. Jindal and his education proposals significant favorable coverage.  They largely ignore the contrary data published by the administrationís own education web-displays to boast of public school failure.  Because of the manner in which Gov. Jindal has rammed through his legislative proposals most of those news media outlets have decried the haste and the high-handed manner of dealing with the opposition forces.


            Thousands of public education supporters rallied to the Capitol grounds only to be locked out by Capitol police, and by specially admitted Jindal supporters escorted in through private entrances. 


            When voters in Louisiana truly understand the underlying negative impacts of the administrationís plan for public education they will be far more likely to act in the best interest of the stateís children and renounce the education reform program.  



Don Whittinghill

Baton Rouge Consultant        


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