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Dumb & Dumber Louisiana's Senators Choose Partisanship Over Common Sense Education Policies

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Last week, the U.S. Senate voted to repeal federal regulations that would require states to assess the effectiveness of their teacher training programs and hold schools and districts accountable for student performance. Why? Because Republicans in Congress appear hellbent on dismantling the Obama Administration’s legislative and regulatory legacies without regard for the consequences of their actions.

Senator Bill Cassidy and Senator John Kennedy.

Inexplicably, Louisiana’s two Republican Senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, have jumped on this bandwagon, at least when it comes to education policy. First, they joined 57 of their Senate colleagues in rolling back an Obama Administration rule tied to the Higher Education Act that would have required states to annually evaluate and rate their teacher training programs.

I assume Cassidy and Kennedy didn’t realize that Louisiana has already been doing this more or less for the past decade. Every year, the Louisiana Board of Regents produces a Teacher Preparation Data Dashboard which provides policymakers and the public with data on the effectiveness of state-approved teacher training programs.

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An example of the data dashboard for LSU's teacher training program in 2014.

In fact, this data helped inform the state’s recent decision to overhaul its teacher training requirements after it became clear that many programs were leaving their graduates unprepared for the classroom. Beginning in 2018, students entering education programs at state colleges and universities will complete a year-long residency in the classroom of a mentor teacher and will complete a new competency-based course-of-study that focuses on the skills and knowledge they need to successfully transition to teaching.

But the need to overhaul teacher preparation is not unique to Louisiana – far too many education schools across the country are churning out aspiring teachers who lack the skills they need to be successful. Of course, state policymakers can’t address the problem without first identifying the strengths and weaknesses of their existing programs, but few states have taken it upon themselves to establish a formal system for evaluating them.

In 2013, the National Council on Teacher Quality released a sobering report on the state of teacher training programs.

The rule that Cassidy and Kennedy voted to repeal last week was the Obama Administration’s attempt to nudge states in that direction by tying teacher prep evaluations to funding: Only training programs that were judged to be effective would be eligible for federal student aid and certain grants. Although Republicans derided the rule as “bureaucratic micromanagement,” “fiscally responsible” seems like a more apt description – that is, unless our esteemed senators can explain why taxpayer dollars should be used to prop-up ineffective teacher training programs.

Title I: No Strings Attached

If the repeal of the teacher prep rule wasn’t bad enough, Cassidy and Kennedy also joined their fellow Republican senators in voting to repeal accountability regulations tied to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

ESSA, the long-awaited update to the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, dictates how federal K-12 education funding is allocated through its various title programs, including the enormous Title I program ($14.4 billion in 2015), which provides funding to schools and districts that serve low-income families. The law also provides an overview of what states must do in order to receive these funds, such annual testing and reporting requirements, a process for addressing persistently failing schools, etc.

Graphic from the Education Trust

The ESSA regulations that the Senate voted to repeal last week fleshed out the nuts-and-bolts guidelines that states must follow in order to comply with the broad mandates of the law. They were specifically crafted to ensure that states are holding schools and districts accountable for the performance of students from low-income families, English-language learners, and students with special needs.

Nevertheless, Republicans in the Senate called the rules a “prime example of the executive overreach” and voted to scrap the them on a vote of 50-49. Ironically, Cassidy and Kennedy joined that bare majority, in spite of the fact that they hail from a state that is recognized as a leader for its strong accountability policies.

Louisiana implemented statewide standardized testing and annual school and district grading well before the advent of No Child Left Behind. And over the past 15 years, education officials have used that data to drive improvements in public education, intervene in failing schools (see: the Recovery School District), and incrementally raise performance standards.

Louisiana’s graduation rate and TOPS eligibility numbers have steadily risen over the years.

The good news is that Louisiana’s unflinching commitment to accountability has raised academic achievement. The bad news is that there are 49 other states whose commitment to high standards varies and no doubt many will opt for the path of least resistance as they craft their ESSA accountability plans. As a result, more vulnerable students will lose, more failing schools will remain failing, and taxpayers will have far less to show for their investment.

Republicans, who control both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade, are eager to show the country that they’re taking things in a new direction, but repealing common sense education regulations simply because they were crafted by the Obama Administration doesn’t make sense. Moreover, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy’s votes to repeal these measures make even less sense, since Louisiana has benefitted from the very policies they chose to reject.

The next time an education bill comes up for a vote, let’s hope Cassidy and Kennedy slow down and draw on the lessons from Louisiana’s reforms.

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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Russell Poulin

I recently wrote about this bone-headed move repealing #teacherprep accountability peterccook.com/2017/03/17/dum… twitter.com/JEAUVA/status/… #edreform

Michael Ripski

when they step down, @UVaCurry steps up! #curryproud

Steve Clark

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Steve Clark

https://twitter.com/petercook/status/846393083323465732#favorited-by-66257899

Focus on Students
Focus on Students

Congrats to Louisiana for setting accountability standards. Why in the world would we want the federal government involved?

SouthernFeminist

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SouthernFeminist

https://twitter.com/petercook/status/842829177623601157#favorited-by-60449752

Peter A. Malanchuk

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Peter A. Malanchuk

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SouthernFeminist

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SouthernFeminist

https://twitter.com/petercook/status/842832454004199424#favorited-by-60449752

SouthernFeminist

Dumb & Dumber: @BillCassidy & @SenJohnKennedy ignore the lessons from #LaEd… #NOLAed… peterccook.com/b/4C1

Greg Harris

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Greg Harris

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Louisiana

After Janus, The Drought? LAE & LFT are downplaying the impact of the Janus v. AFSCME decision, but both are subsidized by their national unions

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The United States Supreme Court handed public sector unions – including the teachers unions – a major defeat on Wednesday with their decision in Janus v. AFSCME, in which a majority of justices agreed that mandatory agency fee laws violate the First Amendment rights of non-union public employees.

In the 21 states with agency fee laws, public employees covered by collective bargaining agreements were required to pay fees to the union to cover bargaining costs, even if they refused to join. Because agency fees only offered a small discount when compared to union dues, many individuals felt compelled to become members.

Screenshot from Education Next.

Now that the Supreme Court has struck down those laws, many observers expect that public sector unions will lose anywhere from 10-30% of their members, and by extension, a big chunk of their revenues. In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, National Education Association (NEA) president Lily Eskelsen García admitted her union expects to lose at least 200,000 members over the next 18 months, depriving them of around $28 million in funding.

What about Louisiana?

Louisiana, of course, is a right-to-work state, meaning that public sector unions here are unlikely to see a drop in their membership, but the Janus decision could have a significant financial impact on the state’s two teachers unions, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT).

In an article in The Advocate on Wednesday, officials from LAE and LFT sought to downplay the potential fallout from the ruling, insisting that any impact on their organizations would be minimal. They also wildly exaggerated the size of their respective unions, with both LAE and LFT claiming around 20,000 members.

LAE president Debbie Meaux and LFT president Larry Carter.

Mike Antonucci, a researcher who has been writing about teachers unions for decades, released figures on Wednesday showing that LAE had 10,461 members in 2016-17, of which only 9,416 were full dues-paying members. While precise numbers are not available for LFT, data from tax filings and public records requests show that the union receives far less in dues payments than their counterparts at LAE, while charging their members more on an annual basis. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that LFT is even smaller than LAE’s 10,000 members.

Those tax filings, along with annual reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, also reveal that both LAE and LFT are heavily subsidized by their national unions. According to tax returns, LAE reported $3,291,199 in revenue in F.Y. 2016, although Department of Labor reports show that nearly 30% of that money came from the National Education Association.

Data from IRS 990s and U.S. Department of Labor annual reports.

Likewise, LFT reported $1,809,239 in revenue in F.Y. 2016, but nearly 27% of that total came from its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Moreover, as I’ve noted in previous posts, AFT also provides substantial funding to its local affiliates, like the United Teachers of New Orleans, Jefferson Federation of Teachers, and Red River United.

Will the money dry up?

Up to now, LAE and LFT could depend on their national unions to provide a substantial portion of their annual budgets, but the Supreme Court’s decision this week means that steady stream of funding could begin to dry up in the not-too-distant future. While It’s unlikely that AFT and NEA will completely cut-off subsidies to their affiliates in right-to-work states like Louisiana, there’s no escaping the fact that there will be less money to go around.

How that will ultimately impact the activities of Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana Federation of Teachers is yet to be seen.

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Louisiana

The Red River Ripoff Shreveport's AFT Affiliate Uses Bureaucratic Obstacles To Keep Dues Coming in

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Red River United (RRU), the American Federation of Teachers-affiliated union representing educators in Caddo, Bossier, and Red River Parishes, is using bureaucratic hurdles and subterfuge in an attempt to prevent members from leaving the organization.

A reader forwarded me a series of emails regarding three of the union’s current members who submitted a union drop request to Red River officials in October, indicating that they wished to end their affiliation with RRU and stop the monthly deduction of dues from their bank accounts.

The sign outside Red River United’s offices in Shreveport.

The receipt of those forms was acknowledged by the union. Nevertheless, when the three teachers checked with their banks at the end of the month, Red River United had once again deducted dues payments from their accounts. On November 1st, an email was sent to RRU officials notifying them of their mistake and requesting that the union refund those dues to the three individuals.

An emailed response from RRU’s in-house counsel, Elizabeth Gibson, flatly refused to refund those payments, explaining that the three teachers “executed a confidential agreement with Red River United (Membership Form), wherein the individuals authorized Red River United, or its designee, to draft their bank account each month for the amount indicated in the agreement for each billing period.”

She continued:

“Further, they acknowledged that they must give at least 30 days written notice to Red River United to cancel future automated debits. Red River United did not receive written notice at least 30 days in advance personally from the individuals indicating they had chosen to cancel their automated debits/membership. They must physically come to the offices of Red River United to cancel the bank draft due to the confidential nature of the information contained therein. These individuals have not done so. Accordingly, they are not entitled to a refund of the monies they authorized to be withdrawn from their bank accounts.”

Gibson added that the teachers needed to physically go to the union’s offices to provide a so-called “wet signature” in the presence of a Red River United employee in order to officially withdraw from the union and stop the monthly bank withdrawals.

Gibson’s emailed response in which she refused to refund dues to the three teachers.

A ridiculous (and dishonest?) response

Gibson’s response is not only ridiculous, but possibly dishonest. It’s also clearly an attempt by Red River United to make it as difficult as possible for current members to dropout of the union.

To start, the union’s “confidential agreement” – i.e., RRU’s membership form – isn’t all that confidential (in fact, I’ve included a copy of it at the bottom of this post). Nowhere on the membership form does it say anything about the requirement to provide a “wet signature” in the presence of an RRU employee to leave the union and stop monthly payments.

The small print from Red River United’s membership form.

Moreover, Gibson’s contention that the three teachers needed to physically go to RRU’s offices to cancel the bank drafts “due to the confidential nature of the information contained therein” is laughable. Anyone who has ever had a subscription to a newspaper or magazine can tell you that you don’t need to go to their offices to cancel it. Plus, there’s nothing “confidential” about the process. All Red River United needs to do is notify their bank to stop the monthly automatic withdrawals for those three individuals. End of story.

So why is Red River United trying to make these three teachers jump through bureaucratic hoops when they clearly don’t want to be part of their organization anymore? I suspect the union is trying to force them to come to their offices so they can pressure them to remain members, which is the kind of behavior you might expect from a dodgy timeshare broker, not a teachers union.

Nevertheless, teachers unions in other states have increasingly employed similar tactics to stem the departure of their members. For example, after Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2012, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) changed their opt-out policy to mandate that teachers withdrawal in August and force them to send their resignation requests to an obscure P.O. box address hidden on their website. The union subsequently refused to honor opt-out requests that were sent directly to MEA headquarters or were received outside of the month of August.

The United States Supreme Court is set to decide Janus v. AFSCME this spring.

I expect that we’ll see even more of these sort of schemes in the coming months. In September, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case which argues that requiring public employees to pay agency fees to unions (including teachers unions) is unconstitutional. It is widely expected that the Court will end up striking down the laws in the 22 states that currently mandate agency fees, meaning that teachers unions across the country will soon be scrambling to come up with ways to keep their members from dropping out.

Because Louisiana has long been a right-to-work state, the Janus case should have little direct impact here. At the same time, that’s exactly why Red River United’s efforts to make it as difficult as possible for members to leave their organization needs to be called out. Louisiana’s public school teachers have the right to join a union or not. Therefore, they should be able to leave a union just as easily as they signed up. If Red River United wants to salvage some of its integrity, it should immediately accept the resignation of the three educators in question and refund their dues as soon as possible.


Read Red River United’s membership form:

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana peterccook.com
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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