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The Baton Rouge Bottom Line: Reform Marches On

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With the final adjournment of the eight-week political marathon that was the 2013 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature yesterday, it’s time to step back and assess the session’s impact our state’s education policies.

First, the good news…

Thankfully, the most regressive education-related bills filed by lawmakers either failed or were rendered harmless through amendment. Among the casualties were proposals that sought to usurp BESE’s authority over school and district accountability measures, textbook selection, and the appointment of the State Superintendent of Education. Moreover, legislative attempts to rollback Louisiana’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and undermine the autonomy of charter schools were also unsuccessful. Finally, just as the session was drawing to a close, Sen. Mack “Bodi” White’s effort to further balkanize the public school system in East Baton Rouge fell short of the votes it needed for approval in the House, sounding the death knell for this divisive proposal for the second year in a row.

However, it wasn’t all roses in Baton Rouge

While the 2013 Regular Session did not result in any major defeats for education reform, not all of BESE/LDOE’s initiatives emerged unscathed. The biggest setback of course was the Senate Education Committee’s rejection of BESE’s 2013-14 MFP formula, which sought to establish a more equitable and effective method for allocating special education funding. Because the Louisiana Supreme Court’s May 7th decision declared the 2012-13 MFP plan unconstitutional, the rejection means that BESE must instead revert to the 2011-12 formula for this coming school year, which Superintendent White claims will cost the state $3.5 billion.

And finally, the big takeaway…

We need to be vocal advocates for education reform and hold lawmakers accountable. The biggest threat to emerge this session came not in the form of legislation, but in the equivocation of lawmakers on the very reform measures they once supported. No case better exemplifies this ambivalence than House Bill 160, a proposal that sought to delay the full implementation of the state’s teacher evaluation system. Thanks, in part, to a concerted lobbying/manipulation effort by the state’s two main teachers unions, H.B. 160 moved virtually unimpeded through the House, where it passed unanimously, 102-0 (thankfully, it was D.O.A. in the Senate). Among those casting votes in favor of the bill were dozens of state representatives who, until recently, threw their support behind reforms aimed at improving our public schools.

One lesson to be drawn from the complete volte-face by these lawmakers is not to underestimate the effectiveness of the misinformation campaign being waged by reform opponents, which no doubt had its intended effect on the perceptions of many politicians. While the education reform movement in Louisiana has established a unprecedented track-record of success over the past decade, we cannot rest on our laurels. In response to the steady erosion of their power in recent years, the anti-reform camp has become more vociferous and better coordinated in conveying their distorted message to politicians and the broader public. Reformers can no longer simply roll their eyes and shrug off these attacks; we need to step-up our political engagement and send a clear message to our elected officials that we cannot turn back on the progress we’ve made in public education.

Bill#

Bill Description

Notes

HB115

Provides for parent petitions relative to the transfer of certain schools from the Recovery School District back to the local school system
  • Amended in committee to exclude Type 5 charter schools, thereby making the bill a non-issue, since the RSD is focused on chartering schools, not running them
  • PASSED the House, 99 to 0; PASSED Senate, 37 to 0; but House rejected Senate amendments;
  • Both House and Senate ADOPTED the conference committee report
  • SENT to Gov. Jindal for signature

HB160

Delays implementation of certain teacher evaluation program requirements relative to termination proceedings and restricts use of evaluation results
  • PASSED the House, 102 to 0, but DIED in the the Senate Education Committee on 5/22/13
  • Tacked onto HB 129 same day it was killed in the Senate, but HB 129 DIED as the session adjourned prior to its hearing in the Senate
  • More about this bill here

HB343

Prohibits certain public high school students from being administered tests pursuant to La. Educational Assessment Program or the La. school and district accountability system with certain exceptions
  • PASSED by the House, 99 to 0; PASSED by Senate, 39 to 0
  • SENT to Gov. Jindal for signature

HB466

Provides relative to the assignment of performance-based letter grades to public schools and school districts
  • This bill, which seeks to politicize the school and district accountability, PASSED the House, 70-28, but DIED in the Senate Education Committee on 5/22/13

HB467

Subjects charter schools to the same State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education rules and regulations as traditional public schools with respect to employment eligibility requirements for teachers and other school employees
  • Unfortunately for Rep. Bel Edwards (but thankfully for public education in Louisiana) this bill DIED in committee

HB540

Provides relative to the eligibility of nationally certified school teachers, counselors, and psychologists for specific salary adjustments
  • PASSED by Senate 39 to 0; PASSED by House w/ Senate amendments, 99 to 0;
  • SENT to Gov. Jindal for signature

HB542

Provides relative to charter schools
  • Never got out of committee

HB597

Provides for the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program
  • Never got out of committee

HB598

Provides relative to performance-based scores and letter grades assigned to public schools and school districts
  • DIED in committee on 5/8

HB613

Requires the State Bd. of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop and adopt rules and regulations providing for parental choice relative to state standardized testing for students with disabilities
  • PASSED by the House, 81-14
  • DIED while awaiting consideration by Senate Education Committee

HB618

Provides relative to salary supplements for public school educational diagnosticians
  • PASSED the House, 97 to 0; PASSED by Senate, 38-0
  • SENT to Gov. Jindal for signature

HB625

Provides relative to the process for discharging, demoting, or disciplining a permanent public school teacher
  • DIED in committee on 5/21

HB642

Establishes and provides for the Special Education Scholarship Program
  • Rep. Nancy Landry dropped the bill in the face of overwhelming opposition to it

HB648

Requires the State Bd. 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
  • Never got out of committee

HB660

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
  • This proposal has been drastically altered and is now HB 724
  • HB 724 simply provides that students are free to gather to engage in prayer before or after school hours, which is redundant since numerous court decisions have already made clear this is permissible

HB661

Creates and provides for Type 3B charter schools and provides for charter school funding
  • PASSED by House w/ Senate amendments, 89-0; PASSED by Senate, 38-0
  • SENT to Gov. Jindal for signature
  • See background on this bill here

HB89

Provides relative to the use of seclusion and physical restraint to address the behavior of certain students
  • PASSED House, 97-0; PASSED Senate, 34-0
  • SIGNED into law by Gov. Jindal’s as Act 1

HCR30

Requests that the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education study the feasibility and advisability of pursuing a residential charter school model in La.
  • ADOPTED by House and Senate Education Committee
  • SENT to the Secretary of State

SB199

Creates and provides for the Southeast Baton Rouge Community School Board and school system in East Baton Rouge Parish.
  • PASSED by both the House and Senate, but DEAD with the failure of SB 73
  • A similar bill, sponsored by Sen. White, also died last year on the floor of the house

SB206

Provides for empowered community schools.
  • AmendedPASSED by the Senate, 22-16
  • DIED in the House Education Committee

SB29

Constitutional Amendment to prohibit unfunded mandates on political subdivisions or public school systems, with limited exceptions.
  • Withdrawn prior to introduction

SB41

Constitutional amendment to require the statewide election of the state superintendent of education.

SB73

Constitutional amendment to grant the Southeast Baton Rouge community school system in East Baton Rouge Parish the same authority granted parishes relative to MFP funding and raising revenue for schools.
  • DIED in the House after backers of the bill were unable to garner the 70 votes needed to pass the constitutional amendment
  • Part of a package with SB 199

SB89

Provides relative to tenure for teachers and certain other school employees.
  • Never got out of committee

SB176

Requires certain local public school boards to obtain BESE approval before making certain changes in the status of a failing school.

SCR23

Provides legislative approval of the MFP formula for FY 2013-2014 as adopted by BESE on March 8, 2013.
  • DEFERRED by Senate Education Committee, likely killing the new MFP formula
  • Will force BESE to use the 2011-12 MFP formula, costing the state $30 million

SCR28

Requests the Department of Education to plan and conduct the Louisiana Teacher Empowerment, Learning and Leading Survey (La TELLS) Initiative.
  • ADOPTED by the Senate and House Education Committees
  • Signed by Speaker of the House and President of the Senate

SCR68

Requests BESE and the Department of Education to withdraw from the Common Core State Standards Initiative and cease all activities related to implementation of such standards.
  • DIED in the Senate, thanks to the efforts of Sen. Conrad Appel

0000000022

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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A Victory For Pettiness Over Progress Why Did The Governor Veto A Common Sense Education Bill?

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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.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford has published highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of charter schools.

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.

State Rep. Nancy Landry (R – Lafayette), is chair of House Education Committee and has clashed with the Governor over education policy.

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:

Student data privacy and education research must be balanced

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.

The Governor’s Office never raised concerns about H.B. 568 as it was making its way through the legislature.

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:

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All About The Kids? Calcasieu Teacher Plays Politics At The Expense Of Students, Taxpayers

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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 with 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.

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.

Enlarge

Screen-Shot-2017-06-10-at-02.52.38
Arsement's absences and Calcasieu Parish School Board holidays.

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…

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.

Missing absences?

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.

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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