From the outset it was clear that this year’s regular session was not going to be about pushing the envelope forward in public education reform – it was about preventing a return to the past. This year there were dozens of bills filed dealing with education, and the vast majority of the significant ones were all about meddling with – or sometimes totally reversing – policy changes that groups like CABL and others had worked to put in place.
The sheer breadth of what was being proposed to unravel Louisiana’s education reforms was staggering. This year lawmakers filed bills to:
- Remove the accountability requirement that students take end-of-year tests, including the ACT
- Delay implementation of our newly revised academic standards
- Begin yet another review of our standards
- Allow schools and districts to establish their own content standards with no testing requirements and no accountability
- Place new restrictions on expanding charter schools
- Prohibit local charter schools from receiving local tax funding
- Dictate what teachers charter schools could hire
- Place further restrictions on the state’s scholarship or voucher program
- Eliminate the requirement that superintendents of mediocre or failing school districts have performance targets as part of their contracts
As one can easily see, that’s a long list of policy changes that, when considered together, offer a road map to take us back to where we were 20 years ago. The fact that at this point in time some of our lawmakers continue to push for these kinds of things is disconcerting to say the least.
Fortunately, with the end in sight for this year’s session, the education policy story is actually pretty good. Through the work of CABL and a diverse group of other education reform advocates all of those efforts to dismantle the policy wins of the last several years were stymied. The result: our charter school policies remain strong, our academic standards and testing emerge unscathed and our accountability system remains in place.
And speaking of those academic standards, which have been the source of so much political gamesmanship over the last three years, our long-running standards review process is finally nearing its end. Legislative committees are set to give our newly-revised, but still very strong, standards their final review shortly and after that it goes to the governor. All expectations are that the both will sign off on the new standards would mark yet another positive policy win.
The only big question mark remaining is about funding for the state’s scholarship, or voucher, program. Current funding in the budget is about $11 million short of what is needed. In practical terms that means a couple of things: no new students could enroll in the program and some students currently in the program might not be able to stay.
The irony is that virtually all of those kids who would be denied access to scholarships because of budget cuts will just cost the state money from another pot when they enroll in public schools. Unfortunately, that issue won’t be resolved in this session but could be worked out in the special session.
CABL will take a more comprehensive look at the session’s education highlights once all the dust settles. But given the all-out assault on our education policies that drew statewide attention at the beginning of the session, it’s worth noting that it failed. Legislative sessions are annual opportunities for lawmakers to meddle inappropriately in education policies. They accomplish some of that from time to time, but fortunately, not so much this time.