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Stay In Your Lane, Governor Governor Edwards' ESSA Advisory Council Is An Unnecessary Distraction

Over the past several weeks, Governor John Bel Edwards has made a flurry of appointments to various boards and commissions, including his Advisory Council on the Every Student Succeeds Act, a new committee the Governor established through an executive order in late May.

The Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), of course, is the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Great Society-era legislation that vastly expanded the role of the federal government in K-12 education. ESSA, which President Obama signed into law in December, represents a marked departure from the stringent accountability provisions of its predecessor, No Child Left Behind, giving states more flexibility in how they evaluate school performance and remedy those that are failing.

On its face, it makes sense that the Governor would establish a committee to recommend how Louisiana should revise its policies to align with the requirements of ESSA – that is, until you take into account that the Governor has very little say over education policy. Under the Louisiana Constitution, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) establishes the policies governing public schools; the Governor’s influence is limited to the three (of 11) members he appoints to the board.

So why would Governor Edwards create an advisory council to make recommendations on policies outside of his purview? That’s a good question, especially considering the fact that the Louisiana Department of Education already has a process and timeline in place for developing the state’s ESSA plan. Furthermore, State Superintendent John White spent much of July and August in public forums across Louisiana gathering input on how the state should adjust its policies to comply with the new law.

The Louisiana Department of Education released this timeline for developing their ESSA plan.
The Louisiana Department of Education released this timeline for developing their ESSA plan.

As a result, the recommendations of the ESSA advisory council are likely to be little more than a distraction, but perhaps that’s the point. Several of Governor Edwards’ appointees to the council share his antipathy to Common Core, charter schools, and the reform policies embraced by Superintendent White and a majority of BESE members. For example, Louisiana Association of Educators president Debbie Meaux is on the council, as are her frequent allies, Scott Richard of the Louisiana School Board Association and Debra Schum of the Louisiana Association of School Principals. All three have found themselves – right along with the Governor – on the losing side of fights over these education reform policies during the past ten years.

Debbie Meaux, Scott Richard, and Debra Schum have all been on the losing side of several education fights.
Debbie Meaux, Scott Richard, and Debra Schum have all been on the losing side of several education fights.

By establishing the advisory council, Governor Edwards is giving them a high-profile platform from which to air their grievances and create controversy, but to what end? Anyone familiar with the recent history of BESE knows that the board isn’t simply going to roll over and accede to the wishes of the Governor or his handpicked advisors. Moreover, as this year’s legislative session(s) made clear, lawmakers have little interest in moving the state’s education policies in the direction Governor Edwards would take them.

Given all the challenges facing Louisiana these days, one hopes that the Governor will see the wisdom in avoiding a prolonged and unpleasant fight over the state’s ESSA plan – a fight that he’s unlikely to win – by keeping a lid on his advisory council and its members in the coming months.

Written by Peter Cook

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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