Monday, June 27, 2011

It's important: Urge Gov. Jindal to sign Senate Bill 6!

Please click here and ask Gov. Jindal to sign SB 6 into law!

SB 6 by Sen. Butch Gautreaux (D-Morgan City) deserves to be signed into law on its own merits. But its passage became even more urgent when three bills allowing retirees to return to work without losing their whole retirement benefit were tied to SB 6 in the waning days of the legislative session.

Those three were amended by House/Senate conference committees, and cannot go into effect unless the governor signs SB 6, which would require employers which withdraw from the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana to pay their proportionate share of TRSL’s unfunded accrued liability.

These are the bills that depend on adoption of SB 6 before they can go into effect:

  • HB 417 by Rep. Page Cortez (R-Lafayette) is the most comprehensive of the bills. It would allow retired teachers to substitute without penalty as long as they do not earn more than 25% of their retirement benefit. The reason for the 25% limit? Rep. Cortez told reporters “We didn’t want to give an incentive for a teacher to retire so they could go back and double dip.”

  • HB 369 by Rep. Gary Smith (D-Norco) says that teachers who were enrolled in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan on June 30, 2010, may work in an adult education or literacy program administered through a K-12 school as long as they do not earn more than 25% of their retirement benefit.

  • HB 150 by Rep. Hollis Downs (R-Ruston) says that retired higher education professors may return to work as adjunct professors, as long as they do not earn more than 25% of their retirement benefit.

Please click here and ask Gov. Jindal to sign SB 6 into law!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Teabaggers march on St. Tammany

Conservative activists proudly allied with wingnut Glenn Beck are attacking the St. Tammany Parish collective bargaining agreement, as reported here by Jim Derry of The Times Picayune.

Since 1993, teachers and school employee in St. Tammany Parish have had a harmonious and productive partnership with their school board. It's the only school district in the state in which every non-administrative teacher and school employee has a binding contractual agreement with the school board (several other systems negotiate with some categories of employees; St. Tammany has the only "wall-to-wall" contract in the state).

St. Tammany is also one of the highest-achieving school systems in Louisiana, so you'd think that people would be loathe to interfere with a process that is working to the benefit of all involved.

But this is a strange political season, and ultraconservative teabaggers are on the march.

Using the same arguments that State Rep. Anthony Ligi recently made in an unsuccessful bid to change state collective bargaining law, the activists are demanding to be included when the board and the St. Tammany Federation of Teachers and School Employees negotiate their contract.

For the record, the contract between the school board and the union cannot be adopted until it has been ratified by the employees and adopted in a public session by the school board.

But the negotiations that lead to the contract are never done in public. And that is for the very same reason that presidents, governors and mayors negotiate all their administrative contracts privately before bringing them to the full body for a public vote.

A lot of ideas are discussed in negotiations. Many of them never get into the contract. Some very good ideas are discarded because the sides cannot come to agreement on them. The same is true of some very bad ideas. And sometimes the discussions get pretty heated before everybody comes together with a contract that they can all agree upon.

As Gov. Jindal likes to say about negotiations to bring new industries into the state, the discussions are just too sensitive to be public until an agreement is ready for unveiling.

But that logic won't cut any ice with the group in St. Tammany. They are not really interested in the collective bargaining agreement anyway. As their leader told the Times-Picayune, the union should be "abolished.

Frustrated educators to march on Washington

The upcoming "Save our Schools March and National Call to Action" has caught the attention of Education Week. The newspaper sent reporter Erik Robelen to write this article about the growing frustration teachers feel because of the mandates of the federal No Child Left behind Act.

At the heart of the protest is discontent over the test-driven accountability standards imposed by NCLB. As one teacher quoted by Robelen puts it, "Teachers lose the opportunity to teach anything beyond how to fill in the bubbles.”

The Washington protest is slated for July 28-31, and the American Federation of Teachers is one of the march's sponsors.

Organizers of the march state their mission thusly:

We stand united by one belief – it’s time for teachers and parents to
organize and reclaim control of our schools.

As concerned citizens, we demand an end to the destructive policies and
rhetoric that have eroded confidence in our public schools, demoralized
teachers, and reduced the education of too many of our children to nothing more
than test preparation.

A well-educated society is essential to the future of the United States
of America. Our students must have access to a fully funded, world-class public
education system, and it is our responsibility to hold our government
accountable for providing the means to achieve it.

The actual rally will be held at noon on July 30, starting at the capitol park ellipse. Other events are listed here.

For those unable to attend the Washington event, a list of local actions are posted here.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Advocate calls flip-flop "a new low in subservience."

This editorial in The Advocate calls out the 11 lawmakers who would rather switch than fight, correctly saying that they "utterly caved to pressure."

Speaker of the House Jim Tucker deserves kudos for standing up to the governor. His passionate speech in favor of overriding the veto was what John F. Kennedy called a profile in courage - especially since Tucker owes his position to Gov. Jindal.

As for the obsequious eleven, The Advocate gets it right:

Members who switched set a new low in subservience. They abased themselves
before Jindal despite the manifest unreasonableness of his position on the merits of the issue. They showed themselves to be more concerned with the governor’s power than with the state’s interest.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Flip-floppers in House doom tobacco tax veto override

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36, King James Version).

Eleven members of the House of Representatives who once voted to extend a four-cent tax on cigarettes flipped under heavy pressure from Gov. Bobby Jindal, and voted Thursday to sustain his veto of HB 591.

The tax, which brings in $12 million a year for health care needs, is matched by federal health care funds, bringing the total benefit of the tax up to $48 million.

Members who changed their votes after hearing from the governor were Robert Billiot, D-Westwego; Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge; Bubba Chaney, R-Rayville; Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro; Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge; Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe; Kay Katz, R-Monroe; Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette; Tom McVea, R-Jackson; Joel Robideaux, Independent-Lafayette; and Tom Wilmott, R-Kenner.

Times-Picayune reporter Bill Barrow's coverage of the vote is here.

Shameful vote in House of Representatives!

(Baton Rouge – June 16, 2011) In refusing to override Gov. Bobby Jindal’s veto of a cigarette tax extension, the House of Representatives did a disservice to the people of Louisiana, according to the Better Choices for a Better Louisiana coalition.

The governor’s decision to veto HB 591 elevated political ideology above the health of the people and the fiscal stability of the state, spokesmen said. By sustaining that veto, representatives shirked their responsibility.

The House of Representatives voted 58 to 44 to override the veto, short of the two-thirds vote required.

The four-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes had been on the books since 2000. The $12 million in proceeds, dedicated to health care, is matched by even more federal funds.

“This simply begs the question: WHY, “said LFT President Steve Monaghan, a founding Coalition member. “On this issue, it should have been easy to do the right thing and override the governor’s veto.”

“The bill originally passed the House by 70 votes,” Monaghan said. “Obviously, some members changed their mind about the value of the cigarette tax between May 24 and today. Those who changed their votes should be asked, ‘Why?’”

“Did they change their minds about the addictive nature of cigarettes, the cost to all taxpayers associated with the usage of the product, or the danger that cancer poses because of this product? Why is it all right to surrender over $40 million in federal matching funds just to give the governor a victory on this issue? This is a strange, dubious victory for the governor, and a sad defeat for Louisiana."

To read the rest of this story, please click here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

JFT says school board broke the law with furloughs

In a lawsuit filed on June 13, the Jefferson Federation of Teachers charges that the parish school board violated state law with plans to furlough school employees for one day next school year.

JFT President Meladie Munch said that the board's decision to furlough paraprofessionals, secretaries and clerical employees, custodial and maintenance employees, and crossing guards is an example of "top down decisions that create an adversarial atmosphere (and) will ultimately hurt our students and the citizens of Jefferson Parish."

Munch said that the union is urging the school board to work with teachers and school employees on a resolution to the district's financial problems.

“The JFT recognizes that the district faces budget challenges, but the necessary sacrifices must be shared," she said. "It is unfair to balance budgets solely on the backs of the hard working dedicated employees that serve our children and their families.”

Defending the important role that school support staff play in education, Munch said “Research shows that to be successful, children need clean, safe and orderly schools that are properly and adequately staffed. Paraprofessionals and other support staff play such a vital role in the lives of children and parents. Reducing their salaries and eliminating the services parents expect their children to receive in Jefferson Parish’s public schools is not in the best interest of children—or the community."

The state law governing salaries for teachers and school employees states, “the amount of the hourly wage or annual salary paid to any school employee shall not be reduced for any school year below the amount paid to the school employee in hourly wage or annual salary during the previous school year, nor shall the amount of the hourly wage or annual salary paid to any school employee be reduced at any time during an academic year.”

JFT's lawsuit was filed in the 24th Judicial District Court. A hearing has been scheduled for Monday, June 27.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Gov. Jindal's irresponsible, indefensible cigarette tax veto

Tell your senator and representative to override Gov. Jindal's veto of the tobacco tax - please click here.

(Baton Rouge – June 13, 2011) Calling Governor Bobby Jindal’s veto of a tobacco tax renewal irresponsible and indefensible, the Better Choices for a Better Louisiana Coalition today urged lawmakers to stand up to the governor and override the veto.

Saying that the governor’s decision places political ideology above the health of the people and the fiscal stability of the state, the coalition stressed reasons why House Bill 591 by Rep. Harold Ritchie (D-Bogalusa) should stand.

The four-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes has been on the books since 2000, and generates about $12 million a year, dedicated to providing health care services. The revenue is used to trigger even more money as matches for federal funds.

At just 36 cents per pack, Louisiana already has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the nation; reducing it by four cents has economists and health care experts scratching their heads about the wisdom of Gov. Jindal’s veto.

To read more of this article, please click here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Coalition aims to be a voice for public education

A sustained attack on public education in Louisiana has brought together a new coalition of organizations that have not always seen eye-to-eye, but are united in their commitment to our schools.

It may seem like a jumble of initials, but when LFT, LAE, LSBA, LRTA, LASS and others are combined, it spells out a united front on crucial issues. The coalition means that unions, school boards, school administrators, retired teachers and assorted allies are working together at a critical time in our state’s history.

The coalition had a media coming-out party when WWL-TV in New Orleans dedicated air time to the issues that the coalition sees as starving all public schools while showering largesse on a select few private, religious and state-run Recovery District schools.

LFT President Steve Monaghan questioned the wisdom of dedicating millions of dollars to vouchers that benefit a relative few children in private and religious schools at the same time that the state is reducing funds for important pre-kindergarten programs around the state.

The coalition chairman, St. Tammany Parish School Board member Jack Loup, said that fairness is the issue. “We just want to make sure public education is on equal footing with the other programs that the state is pushing through,” he said.

Members of the coalition include the LFT, the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, the Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana School Boards Association, the Louisiana Association of School Executives, the Louisiana Association of Principals, the Louisiana Association of Chief Technology Officers, the Louisiana Retired Teachers Association, the National Board Certified Teachers of Louisiana, the Louisiana Association of Computer Using Educators, the Louisiana Association of Child Welfare and Attendance Personnel and the National School Board Association.

Click here to see the WWL-TV news report on the coalition effort.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Are "vulture philanthropists" taking charge?

The new superintendent of the State Recovery school District, and Gov. Jindal's pick to be the next state superintendent, is 35-year old John White.

We know a bit about White's background, detailed in this EdLog post, including the fact that he is certified by the Broad Superintendents Academy (it's pronounced "Brode").

But most people know very little about the academy, which has churned out superintendents with business backgrounds for 21 of the nation's 75 largest school systems, according to this Education Week article by reporter Christina A. Samuels.

The scrutiny provided by Education Week and in The Broad Report by blogger Sharon Higgins is disturbing. The blog includes this motto: "Make no mistake, What is happening in large urban districts today has been carefully orchestrated by vulture philanthropists."

The EdWeek article has a comment from one expert who says that the Broad Academy is designed to provide "superintendents who are trained how to use their power to hand over their systems to the Business Roundtable."

The academy is part of a worrisome movement that education policy professor James Horn calls "venture philanthropy," and includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Milken Family Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and others

Worrisome, Horn says, because "What venture philanthropy is doing seems to me to be wielding influence not to help public institutions, but to destroy public institutions, or take control of them. This is a dangerous place, where corporations and government get mixed up.”

The academy certifies superintendents after a 10-month fellowship season, during which they spend six extended weekends at seminars, with expenses paid by the academy.

Education writer Diane Ravitch has issues with the academy, saying that graduates "have a preference towards privatization."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Our biggest companies, awash in profits, paid negative taxes

Courtesy of Forbes magazine (which can't be accused of having anything close to a liberal bias) comes this report by Rick Ungar.

Short version: During the recent, worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, our largest corporations made $170 billion in profits, but paid no taxes.

Twelve of the Fortune 500 companies, he writes, actually paid negative 1.5% in taxes.

Please don't say the country is broke. Don't say we can't afford Social Security, Medicare or public education. It's just not true.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Join the Save Our Schools March on July 30

Please join people from all across America as they gather to participate in the Save Our Schools March on Saturday, July 30 in Washington, D.C.

The Save Our Schools March is being held in response to recent destructive “reform” efforts which have undermined our public educational system, demoralized teachers, and reduced the education of too many of our children to nothing more than test preparation.

Something must be done – and it must be done now!

The Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action is calling on Americans everywhere to demand:

  • Equitable funding for all public school communities

  • An end to high stakes testing for student, teacher, and school evaluation

  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

  • Teacher and community leadership in forming public education policies
Click here to visit the Save Our Schools March home page!

Jindal called on fake "efficiencies"

When Gov. Bobby Jindal announced his budget plans last March, lawmakers immediately noticed what one senator called the "imaginary dollars" that plugged holes in the spending plan.

They were less skeptical at the time about the proposed savings, or "funding efficiencies" that Jindal's advisers said would reduce the anticipated shortfall by some $225 million. After all, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater and his assistant, Ray Stockstill, told the joint legislative budget committee that the savings were indeed available, and that they would provide a list.

But as Advocate Capitol Bureau Chief Mark Ballard reports here, after all these weeks, and after numerous requests, the list has yet to appear. Writes Ballard:

It’s gone on so long that Jindal’s inability to deliver The List has become a
punch line among legislators, roughly synonymous with “when pigs fly.” It’s
always good for a chuckle, when delivered while waiting in line for lunch or
talking about Baton Rouge traffic.

Lawmakers might joke about the missing list, but it's a nervous laugh. It will take real money, and a real willingness to face the state's fiscal crisis, to write a budget that will provide state services as well as meet the constitutional standard of balance. In the waning weeks of this fiscal session, both are in very short supply.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

If "reform" seems so good to be true, it probably is!

Thank God for Diane Ravitch! In this op-ed for the New York Times, the prickly professor punctures the bubble of so-called "reform," convincingly demonstrating that many success stories "are the result of statistical legerdemain. "

Ravitch takes aim at the No Child Left behind mandate that all children must be proficient in either reading or math by 2014. Teachers understand that to be an impossible goal, she writes, because of the "enormous variation among students and the impact of family income on academic performance."

Even so, she writes, many politicians and the snake-oil salesmen who've hijacked the education agenda claim "that the right combination of incentives and punishments will produce dramatic improvement. Anyone who objects to this utopian mandate, they maintain, is just making an excuse for low expectations and bad teachers."

With assistance from former LSU professor and Baton Rouge School Board member Noel Hammatt, Ravitch proceeds to demolish extravagant claims for success in some reconstituted schools.

Taking particular aim at two schools mentioned by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address, Ravitch says "the only miracle at these schools was a triumph of public relations."

One of those claimed a high graduation rate, but its published ACT scores were far below the state average. Another, which Obama said had "skyrocketed" since firing the principal and half the faculty, actually ranks 430th out of 469 high schools in math.

In conclusion, Ravitch urges the public to meet inflated claims of educational improvement with skepticism - a lesson yet to be learned in Louisiana, where credulous news media uncritically report bogus gains in the State Recovery School District.

The answer simply is not as easy as firing teachers or reconstituting schools because, as Ravitch puts it,

If every child arrived in school well-nourished, healthy and ready to
learn, from a family with a stable home and a steady income, many of our
educational problems would be solved. And that would be a miracle.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New study explains international achievement gap

A major study that will be published by Harvard University Press in September asks the question: What are the countries which outpace the United States in educational achievement doing differently?

Results of the study, from the National Center on Education and the Economy, are previewed in this paper by Marc S. Tucker. The study is focused on educational systems in Ontario, Canada, Shanghai China, Finland, Japan and Singapore.

Tucker writes, "We conclude that the strategies driving the best performing systems are rarely found in the United States, and, conversely, that the education strategies now most popular in the United States are conspicuous by their absence in the countries with the most successful education systems."

Among those differences:

  • The most successful countries don't rely on standardized tests the way that we do in the U.S.

  • Successful countries have funding formulas that put emphasis on the students most in need, instead of local distribution of resources.

  • Others put greater priority on the profession of teaching, emphasizing training, professional development and compensation.

In the United States, teacher unions have been cast as villains, but Tucker points out that the other countries that outperform us are heavily unionized, but along models that have progressed from an industrial to a more professional standing.

The nuggets revealed in this paper create make waiting for publication of the whole book an exercise in anticipation and patience.