I overlooked a number of bills in my earlier post on the subject, so I wanted to highlight a few more state legislators who are sponsoring potentially harmful education legislation in the upcoming session. (Just a reminder: the 2013 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature convenes at noon today – Monday, April 8th)…
House Bill 597: Provides for the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program. This bill, filed by Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R – Dist. 5), is simply another attempt to implement Governor Jindal’s misguided and politically-motivated voucher program – euphemistically called “Scholarships for Educational Excellence” – that was ruled unconstitutional earlier this year. [Email Rep. Seabaugh]
House Bill 598: Provides relative to performance-based scores and letter grades assigned to public schools and school districts. This year, Louisiana began its transition to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which establish a significantly higher bar for academic performance. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, the Louisiana Department of Education will introduce a new series of standardized tests used to measure performance on the Common Core standands and it is anticipated that these tougher tests will result in an initial drop in school and district performance scores. HB 598, filed by Rep. Regina Ashford Barrow (D – Dist. 29), would direct BESE to establish a new 100-point scale for calculating school and district performance scores. Moreover, it would prohibit the state board from granting rewards or taking corrective actions based on these new performance scores until the 2016-17 school year. While LDOE certainly needs to establish a clear and comprehensive plan for adjusting the state’s accountability system (and perhaps the state’s pupil progression plan, as well) to ensure that schools and districts are not unfairly penalized during the adoption of CCSS, this bill would effectively suspend any accountability for the next three years. [Email Rep. Barrow]
House Bill 642: Establishes and provides for the Special Education Scholarship Program. This bill, filed by Rep. Nancy Landry (R – Dist. 31), would establish a voucher program for special education students that would allow them to attend designated “regional special education schools” focused on “special education and related services designed to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities.” Such a program would only serve to further segregate students with special needs and would likely conflict with the “least restrictive environment” mandate of IDEA. Furthermore, these vouchers would no doubt create perverse incentives for both local education agencies (LEAs) and the entities running the proposed regional special education schools. LEAs (districts as well as many of the state’s charter schools), seeking to reduce the financial and administrative costs of educating students with severe disabilities or impairments, could be tempted to pressure the families of these students to enroll in the voucher program. Moreover, since the sustainability of regional special education schools would be largely dependent on voucher funding, they would have little incentive to take the steps that would allow special education students to eventually return to a regular education setting. [Email Rep. Landry]
House Bill 648: Requires the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to adopt rules requiring high school students to complete at least one course offered by a BESE-authorized online or virtual course provider as a prerequisite to graduation. This bizarre legislation, filed by Rep. Steven Pylant (R – Dist. 20), would require all high school students, beginning with students entering ninth grade in the fall of 2014, to complete one online or virtual course in order to receive a diploma. Rep. Pylant’s motivations for filing this bill are difficult to discern (a cursory check of his recent campaign donors did not surface any obvious connection to online course providers), especially since most high school students already have a range of required and elective courses available to them in actual “analog” classrooms. Establishing a blanket online course requirement seems capricious at best and is most definitely premature given that the Course Choice program is still in its infancy. [Email Rep. Pylant]
House Bill 660: Provides for policies, procedures, and programs relative to school prayer, the pledge of allegiance, and instruction regarding the pilgrim fathers and the U.S. flag in certain school districts. Rep. Katrina Jackson (D – Dist. 16), the sponsor of this bill, is either unaware of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, or thinks it’s permissible to waste the legislature’s time and attention on a self-serving stunt to burnish her credentials with Christian conservatives. [Email Rep. Jackson]
House Bill 661: Provides relative to charter schools. This bill, filed by New Orleans East’s own Rep. Wesley Bishop (D – Dist. 99), is clearly an effort to get eligible RSD charters schools (i.e., Type 5 charters) to return to the oversight of the Orleans Parish School Board. Although several charter schools have achieved a School Performance Score (SPS) that would allow them to return to local control, none of them have opted to do so. In explaining their decision to remain in the RSD, many of these schools have stated that a return to local control would entail a change in their designation from Type 5 to Type 3, meaning they would lose their status as a “local education agency” (LEA) and the higher level of funding that goes with it. HB 661 defines a new “Type 3B” charter designation that would allow RSD charters that return to local control to retain their status as an LEA. The bill would also open the door for the dismantling of RSD charters’ citywide open-enrollment requirements by allowing Type 3B schools to establish designated attendance zones. [Email Rep. Bishop]
Senate Bill 199: Creates and provides for the Southeast Baton Rouge Community School Board and school system in East Baton Rouge Parish. The description of this bill, authored by the aptly named Sen. White (R – Dist. 6), should actually read: “Creates and carves out an enclave of white privilege from the surrounding majority African American school system of East Baton Rouge Parish.” SB 199 would be a giant step backwards toward educational apartheid in East Baton Rouge. [Email Sen. White]
A Victory For Pettiness Over Progress Why Did The Governor Veto A Common Sense Education Bill?
On Friday, Louisiana lawmakers voted to cancel a veto session to override Governor John Bel Edwards’ rejection of a number of bills passed by the legislature during this year’s regular session. The move was expected even though many Republican legislators accused the Governor of using his veto power to punish lawmakers who have consistently opposed his agenda.
Although the Governor’s line-item vetoes of construction projects in the state budget aroused the most controversy, the press largely overlooked his rejection of House Bill 568, a proposal from State Rep. Nancy Landry which would have revised the state’s student data privacy law.
Some background on H.B. 568
The story of House Bill 568 has its origins in a conversation I had last spring with a friend who works at the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. For years, CREDO has produced highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of the state’s charter schools using data provided by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). However, in 2015, LDOE officials informed CREDO they could no longer provide access to that information due to changes in the state’s student data privacy law, passed by the legislature in 2014, which prohibited the department from sharing data with research institutions outside of Louisiana.
Without access to student performance data, CREDO’s research on Louisiana’s charter schools would grind to a halt and education policymakers would lose an objective, in-depth assessment of the health of the state’s charter sector. Moreover, the refusal to share data with out-of-state researchers would mean that Louisiana’s influence on the national education policy debate would be significantly diminished.
Seeking to avoid that outcome, my friend at CREDO reached out to see if I had any ideas on how they should proceed. I connected her with State Rep. Nancy Landry, who serves as chair of the House Education Committee, to explain the situation and see if she could help. Their subsequent discussions resulted in H.B. 568, which Landry filed during this year’s regular legislative session.
The bill sought to carve out an exception to the overly broad changes lawmakers made in 2014 by allowing data to be shared (in accordance with standard data privacy protection procedures) with researchers at any college or university in the United States accredited and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. In short, H.B. 568 was limited in scope and non-controversial, as evidenced by the fact that it passed by large margins in both the House (95-3) and Senate (27-7).
Read more about how researchers use student data:
Last week, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on data privacy protections for students. Michael Hansen highlights the gravity of the debate around how Congress will update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for use in the modern age where big data is king.
So what’s with the veto?
Which brings us to the question of why Governor Edwards vetoed the legislation, especially when it had broad bipartisan support. Let’s start with the “official” rationale provided by the Governor in his veto message:
“The legislation requires LDOE to enter into a memorandum of understanding in which the person conducting such academic research agrees to be civilly liable for any fine imposed as a violation of authorized uses of the student information. Under current law, a person who violates authorized uses of the student information is subject to both criminal and civil penalties. House Bill 568 references civil penalties only relative to the memorandum of understanding. However, it does not create an exception to the criminal liability provisions in current law. Because of these drafting concerns, I have vetoed House Bill 568.”
The contention that the Governor felt compelled to veto the bill over a technicality – i.e., it didn’t create an explicit exception to the criminal liability provision in the current law – is unconvincing. Even though H.B. 568 didn’t specifically address criminal liability, it’s not at all clear that it necessarily needed to do so. In any case, from a practical standpoint, it is highly unlikely that a prosecutor would pursue a misdemeanor conviction – as opposed to a civil fine – against an employee of an out-of-state research institution. In fact, to my knowledge, no one has ever faced criminal charges in Louisiana for violating the state’s student data privacy law. It’s also worth noting that the Governor’s Office never raised this concern as H.B. 568 was winding its way through the legislature and could have been amended.
When taken together, the facts suggest that the decision to veto House Bill 568 had little to do with the content of the legislation and more to do with its author. Rep. Landry has clashed with the Governor repeatedly over education policy in recent years and several of the Governor’s school-related proposals have died in the House Education Committee, which Landry chairs. Although Edwards would not be the first governor to use his veto pen to punish lawmakers who opposed his agenda, it makes no sense to apply it to a bill as innocuous and apolitical as H.B. 568, especially seeing that Rep. Landry had nothing to gain by sponsoring the legislation.
Nevertheless, Governor Edwards did just that. Thanks to his veto, Louisiana’s overly broad and mind-numbingly parochial student data privacy law remains in force. Out-of-state academics who want to study our public schools will be told to look elsewhere. And as a result, our public education system won’t be able to benefit from the knowledge and insights their research would provide.
Read House Bill 568:
Read the Governor’s Veto Message:
All About The Kids? Calcasieu Teacher Plays Politics At The Expense Of Students, Taxpayers
For more than a year, Calcasieu Parish special education teacher Ganey Arsement has been on a self-appointed crusade against education reform in Louisiana. He has blasted charters, standardized testing, Common Core, teacher evaluation, and yours truly on his blog, as well as on social media. He has worked to coordinate his attacks with the state’s teachers unions, particularly the Louisiana Association of Educators, and has sought to ingratiate himself with anti-reform politicians like Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.
Arsement has also become an increasingly visible presence in Baton Rouge, where he has spent untold hours attending meetings of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and lobbying in the hallways of the State Capitol. In recent months, Arsement has turned his guns on State Superintendent of Education John White – the bête noire of Louisiana’s reform opponents – whom he wants replaced. After failing to convince legislators that the law required them to reconfirm White (who has been on a month-to-month contract since the beginning of 2016), Arsement filed a petition in state court late last month that seeks to remove him from office.
Louisiana is ready for a new direction. https://t.co/eDLPMl5tEC
— Educate Louisiana (@edlouisiana) April 12, 2017
Through it all, Arsement has portrayed himself as a selfless defender of public education who is fighting the nefarious schemes of greedy “corporate” reformers. However, a closer examination reveals that his political adventures have instead come at the expense of students and taxpayers.
Unethical and possibly worse
Official attendance records provided to me by Calcasieu Parish Schools Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus show that Arsement missed 16.5 days of work – more than three weeks of school – over the course of the 2016-17 school year.
According to Bruchhaus, all but one of these days (May 9, 2017) were recorded as sick leave. State law permits teachers to take two days of personal leave per year without loss of pay. The law also allows teachers to take ten days of sick leave per year due to illness or other emergencies without loss of pay. Unused sick leave can be carried over from one year to the next.
In Arsement’s case, it is clear that he took paid sick leave on many days when he was actually playing politics in Baton Rouge. Moreover, you don’t have to take my word for it, as he admits as much several times on his blog. Here are just a few examples…
- Although he called out sick on February 23rd, he noted in a blog post that he actually went to Baton Rouge to attend the final meeting of the Governor’s ESSA Advisory Council;
- He took sick leave on March 29th, but again mentioned on his blog that he was in Baton Rouge at a BESE meeting;
- The same goes for May 18th (he also missed May 17th), when he was “sick” in Baton Rouge to introduce House Bill 536 with State Rep. Vincent Pierre, as he wrote in a blog post ironically titled, “HB-536: Who really puts children first?”
What this means is that Arsement was off doing political advocacy while his special needs students were left with a substitute (who also had to be paid) and taxpayers foot the bill. I would venture to guess that most people would find that unacceptable, especially the parents of his students.
— LAE (@LAEducators) November 16, 2016
If that’s not bad enough, I’ve also identified at least one day – and possibly two days – where his attendance record says he was working, but he was actually in Baton Rouge.
Several sources have confirmed that Arsement was at the Capitol during school hours on May 2nd. Nevertheless, his attendance record does not mark him absent on that date. Why that absence is missing is unclear, but since teachers verify their timesheets, the error should have been corrected.
The second day in question is May 8th when, by his own admission, he proudly delivered a petition calling for the removal of John White to the office of Senate President John Alario. Although he does not indicate when he made that delivery, one assumes he didn’t hop in his car immediately when school ended at 3:10pm to drive two hours to Baton Rouge to drop it off. In any case, Arsement is not marked absent on May 8th, either.
— Educate Louisiana (@edlouisiana) November 17, 2016
Exactly why reform is needed
When Arsement claims education reform supporters “demonize” teachers, what he means is that they actually expect teachers to do the work they’re paid to do. While this may seem draconian to someone who can apparently skip entire days of work and get away with it, this is not a radical concept to most of us. When taxpayers hand over their hard-earned money to pay for public education, they expect teachers to teach. When parents send their children off to school, they expect their kids will actually spend the day learning. When Arsement instead takes a bunch of sick days to lobby lawmakers for lower standards and less accountability, he’s breaking that social contract and possibly the law. Worst of all, he’s doing a tremendous disservice to the young people in his classroom – kids who need the most help.
In his effort to rollback Louisiana’s education reform policies, Arsement has inadvertently provided a real-life illustration of why they are so desperately needed. For that at least, I thank him.
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