The Session Begins

Governor Jindal has made K-12 education reform the cornerstone of his legislative agenda. He is proposing sweeping changes – including expanding vouchers, creating more charter schools, and changing teacher tenure – that could radically alter the landscape of Louisiana education.

This Wednesday the House Education Committee and this Thursday the Senate Education Committee will hear his three foundational bills.

  • Rep. Carter’s House Bill 976 and Sen. Appel’s SB 597, which expand school choice, including the scholarship program, pathways for charter schools, the providers who can offer courses to K-12 students, and a “parent trigger” for failing schools.
  • Rep. Carter’s House Bill 974 and Sen. Appel’s SB 603, which link teacher tenure to performance, make effectiveness the primary criterion for personnel decisions, and grant authority for hiring and placement of personnel to school superintendents.
  • Rep. Carter’s House Bill 933 and Sen. Appel’s SB 581, which outline a framework for a single coordinated early childhood education system with accountability for academic outcomes.

Comments on the Governor’s Education Package

Gov. Bobby Jindal Education Overhaul Legislation Introduced
The Times-Picayune – March 3, 2012
This article outlines the governor’s ambitious plans, provides details on the different bills to be debated, and presents arguments for and against his most controversial proposals to overhaul teacher tenure and expand vouchers.

Jindal’s Education Moon Shot
The Wall Street Journal – January 31, 2012
In one legislative session, Louisiana’s governor wants to create America’s largest school voucher program, its broadest parental choice system, and its toughest teacher accountability regime. The Wall Street Journal calls this the governor’s “education moon shot” and says, if he succeeds, it would be one giant leap for Louisiana children.

Ravich: Bobby Jindal vs. Public Education
Education Week – March 6, 2012
Diane Ravich calls the governor’s agenda an unprecedented onslaught against public education and an unfair attack on teachers.

The Voucher Debate

Within the school choice bills (HB 976 and SB 597), the item that has generated the most media interest is the proposed expansion of vouchers.

So what does the voucher bill do?

It expands the voucher program statewide, making more than 350,000 students eligible.

Who is eligible?

  • Any student who meets the income eligibility standard of 250% of the poverty line at the time they enter the program. (There is no requirement to prove eligibility in subsequent years.) AND
  • Is entering kindergarten OR
  • Attending a public school with a letter grade of C, D or F

Who gets preference?

If there are more students applying then there are slots, the Department of Education will conduct an enrollment process similar to a lottery. There are no admission criteria allowed, although the school retains its academic and disciplinary requirements for students attending.

  • Siblings get preference
  • Kindergarten students enrolled in a nonpublic school pre-K program get preference

Other Key Points

  • Funded with MFP dollars
  • All scholarship students must take the state tests
  • The department will give parents information on the scholarship students at each school, including performance on state tests, parent satisfaction survey results, and retention rates (what percentage of students stay year to year).

Many have weighed in on the pros and cons of the proposed voucher expansion. Here is a sampling of the debate:

The Concerns – An Overview

Some of the concerns are well expressed in Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans’ letter to committee members:

Open Letter to the House and Senate Education Committees
Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans – March 12, 2012
In an open letter to the House and Senate Education Committees, Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans recommends changes to the proposed voucher legislation in order to improve accountability for voucher schools, prioritize need, and limit the percentage of voucher students a private school can enroll.

Accountability Concerns

Louisiana Should Be Shown Proof that Private School Vouchers Are Worth It: Jarvis DeBerry
The Times-Picayune – February 5, 2012
Jarvis DeBerry says voucher schools should be held to the same state accountability standards as regular public schools. Perry says it’s not enough to just say voucher schools are better, he wants proof before he will become a voucher supporter.

Accountability Would Make Voucher Plan Better: Letter
The Times-Picayune – March 10, 2012
In this letter to the editor, Robbie Evans points out that the governor’s plan for vouchers lacks accountability, with consequences, in the event that voucher schools do not perform well.

Don’t Weaken Louisiana’s School Voucher Rules: An Editorial
The Times-Picayune – March 10, 2012
The Times-Picayune is concerned that proposed voucher legislation would actually weaken current voucher accountability requirements. Current law limits the number of voucher students in a new private or parochial school to no more than 20% of its student population, unless its governing board has a proven track record of success. The new law would allow a newly formed school to take unlimited voucher students simply by providing a letter of credit or a surety bond. A letter of credit might show financial security, but it certainly doesn’t prove the board can run a successful school.

More Aid Accountability Sought
The Advocate – February 13, 2012
Louisiana’s superintendents are asking the Jindal administration to require letter grades be given to private and parochial schools that accept voucher students, just like public schools.

Report: Jindal’s Push to Expand School Vouchers Lacks Accountability
Greater Baton Rouge Business Report – February 14, 2012
A new report by the Louisiana Budget Project gives Gov. Jindal’s plan to expand the state’s voucher program an “F” for accountability.

Constitutionality Concerns

Teachers Union to Lawmakers: Jindal Voucher Plan Unconstitutional
The Times-Picayune – March 8, 2012
Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, says redirecting MFP funds to cover private and parochial school tuition is in violation of Louisiana’s Constitution, which he says, “clearly reserves MFP funds for public elementary and secondary schools” and could divert locally dedicated taxes to other purposes.

Focus on the Neediest First

Shaping Education Plan: Democrats Want to Tweak Jindal’s School Agenda
The Advocate – March 6, 2012
While Democrats have no plans to offer sweeping alternatives to the governor’s public school agenda, they do plan to help shape any education bills through amendments. For example, instead of allowing all students in a school rated C, D or F to be eligible for vouchers, an amendment might limit eligibility to D and F schools and give preference to students in F-rated schools.

The Proponents Answer Concerns

Render Unto Caesar What is Caesar’s
Louisiana Family Forum – March 2, 2012
The president of the Louisiana Family Forum says that increased accountability for voucher schools is unnecessary because parents already decide success and failure in private education. He also says that no church-run school should have to adopt the onerous and unproductive edicts that accountability imposes.

Department Releases White Paper on Proposed Statewide Scholarship Program
Louisiana Department of Education – March 6, 2012
The Louisiana Department of Education has released a white paper that lays out the steps the department would take to implement the governor’s proposed plan to expand the voucher program. View the complete white paper.

Voucher Program Will Draw Few at First, La. Schools Chief Says
Associated Press – March 6, 2012
Although an estimated 380,000 students would be eligible for school vouchers under the governor’s plan, Superintendent of Education John White says he expects a much smaller number of parent’s would apply at first, only around 2,000.

State Superintendent: No Admissions Testing for Voucher Students
Greater Baton Rouge Business Report – March 6, 2012
Superintendent John White says that private schools with selective admissions criteria that choose to participate in the state’s voucher program would not be allowed to apply the same criteria to students with vouchers.

Other Commentary on the Governor’s Agenda

Vouchers aren’t the only thing on the Legislative agenda generating media interest. The overhaul of teacher tenure and teacher evaluations and the expansion of charter school authorizers are also in the news.

Teacher Tenure and Evaluations

Every Child Deserves the Best Teacher: A Guest Column by Rayne Martin
The Times-Picayune – March 10, 2012
Rayne Martin, the executive director of Stand for Children-Louisiana, says the new teacher evaluation system is a fair system designed to support teachers’ and leaders’ development through clear job expectations. She is also in favor of transforming Louisiana’s tenure system and linking compensation to effectiveness. Stand for Children has prepared policy briefs on teacher evaluation, tenure, compensation, and reductions in force.

Expanding Charter School Authorizers

Proposal to Expand Charter School Authorizing Elicits Mixed Reviews
The Times-Picayune – February 13, 2012
Gov. Jindal would like to expand the number and type of groups that can approve new charter schools in Louisiana. Currently, only local school boards and the state board of education can approve charters. Many experts worry that opening up charter school creation to nonprofits, community groups, and universities would lead to a less rigorous authorization process resulting in low performing charter schools.

How to Contact Legislators

It is expected that these bills will move quickly out of committee. If you want to contact a committee member about any of the issues in the proposed legislation, here’s a Contact List for the members of the House and Senate Education Committees.