Thursday, May 13, 2010

“Red Tape Reduction” bill sails through House of Representatives

Undeterred by the objections of teachers, the House of Representatives approved Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature education legislation, HB 1368 by Rep. Jane Smith (R-Bossier City), by a 68-20 margin. The fight to stop this misleading and mislabeled bill will now move to the Senate, with its first stop at the Education Committee.

If signed into law, the “Red Tape Reduction and Local Empowerment Waiver Program,” would allow school boards and their superintendents to apply for waivers for virtually all state laws and policies regarding education. The waivers would be granted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The bill is, according to LFT President Steve Monaghan, the most dangerous piece of legislation facing public education this year. Potential results of the bill could:

  • Water down teachers’ tenure protections
  • Allow increased class size
  • Eliminate teacher salary schedules in favor of “performance based pay”
  • Discourage hiring veteran teachers by adopting “student-based budgeting”
  • Give principals control over budgets, including salaries, supplies, resources, etc.
Despite heavy pressure from the governor’s office, some members were spirited in their opposition to the bill. Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) predicted that the bill will cause havoc if it becomes law. Allowing BESE, which is not a law-making body, to decide which laws could be ignored, “is bad public policy,” Edwards said.

Edwards said the legislature is careening toward a “schizophrenic” education policy, in which school superintendents and boards might adopt risky strategies that could “fall on the backs of the teachers.”

Rep. Robert Johnson (D-Marksville) said he fears that in an attempt to make all schools operate more like charter schools, important protections for teachers would be set aside.

Rep. Sam Jones (D-Franklin) noted that no other agencies in the state have been given the authority to grant exemptions from laws passed by the legislature. Rep. Edwards responded that he doubts the plan would pass constitutional muster.

Rep. Herbert Dixon (D-Alexandria) said that as school budgets shrink, the bill will tempt school board to cut instructional services.

BESE won’t have a problem granting the waivers,” Dixon said. “It is a means by which local school boards can address budget needs.”

“This will hurt parents and children,” Dixon said.

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