Proposals to Remake Education System Hit Louisiana Legislature

Published March 21, 2012

Louisiana lawmakers have introduced legislation to remake the state’s education system in line with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposals earlier this year, and the Senate education committee chairman said he expects they will pass “within a month and begin implementation.”

The set of bills would create the largest voucher program in the nation, limit teacher tenure, expand charter schools and online learning, and more.

“These are very broad and complicated bills,” said state Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie), chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “They deal with major reforms to our entire public education delivery system.”

The bills were introduced in the House and Senate education committees March 14 and 15.

Though teachers unions have stridently opposed the proposals and some school districts have canceled class so teachers could lobby against the reforms, within a week of introducing the bills legislators passed major portions of the package out of the Senate and House education committees.

“Giving parents a broader range of options, via vouchers, online learning, and charter schools will allow more students to enjoy the benefits of choice, competition, and innovation,” said Kevin Kane, president of the Louisiana-based Pelican Institute.

Louisiana spends approximately $12,000 annually per student and ranks 49th in overall education performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

‘Bold Example for Other Governors’
Jindal (R) made the education bills his top legislative priority for this year, announcing his support for them after months of public and private discussions with teachers, superintendents, school board members, and policy operatives.

“This is the most important issue we are going to address this entire session,” he told legislators when the bills were introduced. “In America, we don’t believe that everyone has the right to equal outcomes. We do believe that everyone has the right to equal opportunity.”

The governor’s leadership has been essential to moving the bills forward, said Matthew Ladner, research director at the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

“Jindal has put the full weight of his office behind the effort,” he said. “Gov. Jindal is setting a bold example for other governors to follow in his all-out effort to improve public education.”

Shifting Teacher Tenure
Rep. Steve Carter (R) has sponsored House Bill 974, which requires teachers to earn tenure and demonstrate effectiveness in order to keep it, makes effectiveness the primary criterion for personnel decisions, and grants authority for hiring and placement of personnel to school superintendents.

“Gov. Jindal’s proposed reforms will make it easier for schools to ensure that quality teachers are instructing our students,” Kane said. “Research demonstrates the importance of having high quality teachers, but outdated rules have made it almost impossible to dismiss poor performers.”

The bill would require that teachers receive a “highly effective” rating for five consecutive years to receive tenure.

Two Opportunity Scholarships
Louisiana is currently home to the New Orleans Scholarship Program, which allows students under 250 percent of the poverty line and attending “D” or “F” graded schools to attend private schools using state funds.

House Bill 976 would expand that program to all low-income students statewide who are attending schools graded “C” or below by the state. Seventy-two percent of the state’s public schools currently receive a “C” grade or lower. The plan would make an estimated 380,000 students—approximately half the state’s schoolchildren—eligible for private school choice.

HB 969 would create a tax-rebate scholarship, allowing individuals and corporations that donate money to scholarship-granting nonprofits to receive a dollar for dollar tax rebate. Students under 250 percent of the poverty line could use the scholarships to attend a private school of their choice or a high-performing public school.

The package would also make it easier for charter schools to expand by giving the state board of education the authority to allow other entities, such as universities, to approve new charter schools.

The bills would also update Louisiana’s virtual education system and redefine “the relationship between school boards, superintendents, and principals” by creating “a vertical management structure,” Appel said. This “eliminates the micromanaging of schools by school boards,” he said