Education bills head to Jindal

Published 12:09 am Saturday, April 7, 2012

VIDALIA — They huffed and puffed, but in the end Louisiana educators were unable to blow down two education reform bills that will reach Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk next week.

With two votes Wednesday, the state Senate approved the two bills that diminish teacher tenure, revamp the power of local school boards and establish a statewide private school voucher program, among other changes.

One bill, House Bill 976, would ultimately expand the charter school system and would create a public-to-private school voucher system for students in a school district with a D or F on Louisiana’s letter-grade accountability rating system.

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That bill went back to the House for another vote on Senate language changes, but was approved Thursday and now heads to Jindal for a signature.

The second bill, House Bill 974, works to redefine teacher tenure and ties teacher pay and job security to student performance.

The House will take up Senate changes to House Bill 976 early next week.

Concordia Parish Superintendent Loretta Blankenstein, along with most educators in the state, has been watching the bills closely and said she is upset with the quick passage of the legislation.

“When you have that much controversy and discussion toward something, you should take time and analyze everything,” Blankenstein said. “It doesn’t mean that you throw out every part of it and start over. I just wish they would have slowed down.”

Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, who voted in favor of both bills, said he felt there was plenty of discussion on both bills, and that factor did play into his voting decision.

“There were lengthy conversations on pros and cons of both bills, with not just people in the governor’s office, but also with people in my district,” Riser said. “It was a very controversial bill and it was a tough decision, but being number 48 or 49 in the nation in education, we needed to do something.”

While she doesn’t agree that Louisiana’s education system is perfect the way it is, Blankenstein said she feels educators are being scapegoated for political agendas.

“I’m in no way saying that we are exactly where we need to be because there’s always room for improvement,” Blankenstein said. “But, in Louisiana, it seems that educators are being attacked on every front — from insurance to retirement to teacher evaluations.”

Rep. Andy Anders, D-Clayton, who voted against both bills, said he thought the legislation was hurried along and that input from all areas of the state was not taken into account.

“It was the governor’s show, I guess,” Anders said. “We’re all for reform and to try and make things better, but I don’t think that educators, especially in the rural areas, were given a chance to give their input.”

In fear of blanket reform for the entire state, Anders said he would have liked to see certain pieces of the bills broken down for further examination.

“There were some things in the bills that I might have been in favor it, but it was a package deal, and we couldn’t pick things out and change them. It was all or nothing,” Anders said. “My deal was if it was a good piece of legislation I was certainly for it, but I didn’t feel it was good for the 45,000 people I represent. And I’m here to represent them, not just the governor of Louisiana.”

As the state waits for Jindal’s signatures on the bills, Blankenstein said Concordia will play a waiting game until more exact details on implementation arise.

“I think in the long run it will be problematic and there will be many adjustments over time,” Blankenstein said. “But we have a lot of good teachers and administrators in Concordia Parish, and I know they will rise to any challenges put before them.”