This post was originally published on PE+CO: Louisiana Education Legislation Update
While the inimitable Huey P. Long has gone down in history as “The Kingfish,” to his political opponents he was known by another, less flattering name, “The Dictator of Louisiana,” a reference to his unrelenting pursuit of power as governor, and subsequently as a United States Senator. Now, 80 years later, it may be time to revive that moniker, as Governor Bobby Jindal seems to be channeling Long’s authoritarian streak.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Governor Jindal announced his plan to jettison the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and block the adoption of the CCSS-aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests that students in grades 3 through 8 are scheduled to take this coming school year.
Jindal’s plan involves several lines of attack on Common Core. To start, the Governor issued an executive order requiring the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) to conduct a competitive bidding process for the state’s standardized tests, which he believes will preclude LDOE from administering PARCC next year as planned. Jindal also issued an executive order suspending rules adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) last month approving the administration of the PARCC exams in the 2014-15 school year. Finally, the Governor sent letters to PARCC notifying the organization that Louisiana is withdrawing from the testing consortium, as well as to the Council for Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association informing them that Louisiana is no longer participating in Common Core.
For months, Jindal has been threatening to act unilaterally to derail CCSS and PARCC if the legislature failed to do so on its own. Yet while a handful of Tea Party-aligned anti-CCSS lawmakers made headlines by filing dozens of bills seeking to undermine Common Core, every single one of their proposals went down in defeat during the recently-concluded legislative session.
In April, representatives from a broad coalition of Louisiana’s leading business, civic, and education organizations came out in force to defeat two anti-CCSS proposals, House Bills 381 and 558. House Bill 381, sponsored by Rep. Brett Geymann and Rep. J. Rogers Pope, sought to suspend the implementation of CCSS while a 30-person commission developed new state standards and their accompanying tests over the next two years. House Bill 558, filed by Rep. Cameron Henry and Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard, would have prohibited the administration of the Common Core-aligned PARCC exams. Although though Governor Jindal surprised everyone by submitting “green cards” in support of the measures, the House Education Committee voted 12-7 to kill both bills.
Furthermore, the House Appropriations Committee voted down House Bill 380, a backhanded attempt to throttle the adoption of CCSS by requiring LDOE to get legislative approval before spending state funds on “any assessment proposed or developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or any other equivalent national group.”
“When it comes to the controversial Common Core standards, we think the Legislature said a lot by what it did not do. The question is whether Gov. Bobby Jindal is listening.”
Given his announcement on Wednesday, apparently Bobby Jindal wasn’t listening and that’s probably because he’s preoccupied with his all-but-certain Presidential run in 2016. It’s been clear for months that Jindal’s focus has shifted from his responsibilities as Governor to his preparations for a national election campaign. When not writing goofy opinion pieces for USA Today, the New York Post, or the National Review, Jindal has spent much of the past year out-of-state, especially in early primary battlegrounds like Iowa. As a result, his approval rating among Louisiana voters has plummeted to a dismal 35%, making him one of the least popular governors in the country.1
Jindal had been a staunch advocate for Common Core ever since Louisiana committed to the standards in 2010; in fact, Jindal was featured in a pro-Common Core video released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in April. Thus his sudden reversal on CCSS is clearly aimed at wooing the right-wing voters who turnout for Republican primaries, especially those Tea Party voters who can decide a race, as Eric Cantor’s recent defeat so vividly illustrated.
Considering his presidential aspirations, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Jindal changed his position on Common Core, but his attempt to circumvent the legislature and kill CCSS – in effect, by decree – represents a new low even by the seen-it-all standards of Louisiana politics. (Although, in another sense, it’s just the latest example of Jindal’s propensity for going overboard with ill-advised, politically-damaging stunts, such as bashing President Obama on the White House lawn or chastising his own party for “bedwetting” and “navel gazing.”)
Fortunately, Jindal’s attempt to side-step the democratic process has run into fierce resistance. Almost immediately following Jindal’s press conference, LDOE and BESE issued a press release entitled, “State To Continue Implementing Common Core, PARCC” in which BESE President Chas Roemer stated:
“Four years ago, our board committed to measuring learning in comparison with states across the country, and two years ago the Legislature put this plan into the law. BESE is continuing to implement that law.”
State Superintendent John White didn’t pull any punches in responding to Jindal’s announcement either, telling reporters:
“The state will continue to implement the Common Core Standards …this is a long term plan we have been working on for four years and committed to another 10 years of implementation. We are not willing to subject our children to last-minute changes to throw our system into educational chaos.”
Roemer and White’s sentiments were echoed by school district officials across the state, such as Michelle Blouin-Williams, Chief Academic Officer in Jefferson Parish – Louisiana’s largest school system – who stated:
“We are aligned with the Louisiana Department of Education and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who have affirmed that we are to continue implementing CCSS and transitioning to PARCC in the 2014-15 school year as planned. The Jefferson Parish Public School System will continue to invest in the success of our students and teachers by ensuring high expectations for all.”
Now that the long-smoldering debate over Common Core has erupted into an all-out civil war, the two sides are likely headed for court. As both Roemer and White point out, according to the MOU signed with PARCC in 2010, Jindal doesn’t have the authority to unilaterally pull out of the consortium. In addition, as former BESE member Leslie Jacobs noted in a review of the legal questions involved, while the Governor does have the power to issue executive orders in the event of an emergency,
“…it is hard to argue that an issue that has been publicly discussed and vetted for 4 years and on which there were numerous bills debated this session is now an ‘emergency’ giving the governor this power.”
Regardless of the outcome in court, Bobby Jindal’s actions have – for now, at least – thrown Louisiana’s “public education system into a state of confusion.” With the start of a new school year only eight weeks away, Jindal is leaving the state’s teachers and students in the lurch. Instead, as an editorial in the Times-Picayune pointedly stated:
“Gov. Bobby Jindal went against the wishes of the Legislature, the state education superintendent, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, dozens of business and civic groups and common sense this week…as he often does these days, the governor decided his political interests were more important.”
While he may aspire to appear presidential, his actions are closer to dictatorial and only diminish his already-remote chances of becoming President. Apparently, that’s a lesson Bobby Jindal insists on learning the hard way.
Post-Script, 06/19/14: The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which is “considered the most powerful lobby in Louisiana,” released a pro-Common Core video today in response to Bobby Jindal’s attempt to ditch CCSS. The video features LABI President Stephen Waguespack, who formerly served as Governor Jindal’s Chief of Staff:
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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