Friday, February 26, 2010

Tell lawmakers: Don't starve public education!

There is grim news for our schools in Governor Bobby Jindal's proposed budget. Because of bad choices made over the past few years, the state is facing a huge deficit. The governor wants to fix the problem by cutting funds for public education. But at the same time, he wants to increase funds for religious school vouchers and quasi-public charter schools.

If the governor gets his way, these cuts will be made:

  • No more promised stipends for nationally certified teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, and therapists.
  • For the second year, over $60 million in Minimum Foundation Program growth funds will be eliminated.
  • Local school systems will be forced to pay for transportation of private and religious school students.
  • Nearly $13 million in mid-year education budget cuts will be annualized.

But the governor wants to spend $8 million on vouchers that mainly benefit Catholic schools in New Orleans, $35 million on state-approved, quasi-public charter schools, and almost $1 million in contracts to "manage charter schools application and evaluation processes." The State Department of Education will receive $73 million for what it calls "building human capital."

The governor's plan is bad for our schools, bad for our teachers and school employees, and bad for our children!

The first stop for the governor's proposed budget is the House Appropriations Committee. Please click this link and send committee members a message: Don't starve public education!

Jindal brazenly declares "no cuts for education"

In a display of mendacity and hypocrisy so breathtaking that it could earn a perfect 10 on an Olympic scale, Governor Bobby Jindal today announced that his budget "includes no cuts for higher education schools or K-12 education."

This in the same week that the governor is taking heat for proposing the elimination of state-paid stipends for nationally certified educators, eliminating the Minimum Foundation Program's growth factor, cutting transportation funds for local school boards and annualizing $13 million in mid-year budget cuts.

Does the governor believe that no one in Shreveport - where he made the bizarre announcement - has read news reports about cutting the certification stipend?

Advocate editorial gets it right

Today's lead editorial in The Advocate takes Governor Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek to task for their outrageous comments about the $5,000 stipend for nationally certified educators:

We’re disheartened by the news that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget calls for the elimination of
$5,000-per-year stipends for public-school teachers who have earned national
board certification.
We also are disappointed that state Superintendent
of Education Paul Pastorek, who previously championed the value of
national board certification, is backing away from his support.

The editorial makes note of Pastorek's hypocrisy. This week, Pastorek dismissed the value of national certification, but just last December he praised the certification as something that "will clearly benefit them and their students."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pastorek and Jindal diss nationally certified teachers

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek reduced his stature by carrying Governor Jindal's water in this article by Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon.

It was bad enough when the governor announced that he plans to eliminate stipends for nationally board certified teachers from the state budget. But for Pastorek to take it upon himself to denigrate the achievement of those who've earned the honor is simply disgraceful.

The rank hypocrisy of the superintendent's comments in The Advocate is stunning. On Tuesday, he told a state budget panel that certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards "does not mean teachers are effective in the classroom."

But not too long ago, Pastorek wrote on his own Web site that "Educators that are committed to going through the rigorous process of becoming nationally certified also demonstrate a high level of commitment to the profession and to the students they teach. As a result, the academic achievement of our students will continue to increase as the number of NBCTs grows each year."

As of this writing, the quote is still on the Web site. Click quickly, it might be scrubbed soon.

The story gets worse

Even as Jindal and his apologist in the Claiborne building tear down the reputations of teachers who've demonstrated their excellence, they are planning to siphon even more funds away from public education for the benefit of private and religious schools.

Jindal's budget will reportedly include an additional $3 million for vouchers that mainly benefit Catholic schools in New Orleans. When lawmakers questioned the expense, Pastorek responded that “I don’t think we’re shorting the public school system.”

Except, of course, for the stipends that were promised to educators who earned national certification.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

National certification stipend on the chopping block?

Governor Bobby Jindal now says that his upcoming budget will eliminate the $5,000 stipend for teachers who earn national certification, as well as for transporting private and religious school students.

Because the expenditures are mandated by law, local school boards will have to pick up the tab for millions of dollars worth of state obligations, according to this article by Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon.

With state funding for schools expected to remain frozen this year, how on earth does the governor think school boards can afford his new mandate?

As LFT President Steve Monaghan says in this press release, the governor is merely "kicking the can down the road," expecting others to make decisions that properly belong in the executive office.

“If the state really cannot afford transportation for private school
students, then the governor should propose eliminating the private school
transportation stipend," Monaghan said. "However, national board certification
is an intense process that brings real value to children in Louisiana
classrooms, and we would hope that the governor would make its funding a

“The truth is that in the past few years, our governor and
legislature indulged in an orgy of tax cuts and rebates that left Louisiana
unable to address the needs of its citizens,” Monaghan said. “Now we are facing
the results of those bad choices, and the people of the state will suffer as a

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reporter explains Race to the Top

The federal Race to the Top program is a complex beast that defies simple "for it" or "against it" positions. In this article, reporter Sarah Carr provides a solid overview of the state's plan for snagging as much as $315 million from the $4 billion-plus federal grant.

Carr does a good job of explaining the reservations of organizations like LFT. In the final analysis, as LFT President Steve Monaghan puts it in the article, the union's plan is "to stay fully engaged in the application and shape it as much as we possibly could."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Post Mardi Gras wrapup

As hard as it is to believe in Louisiana, things other than SuperBowl and Mardi Gras have happened in the past few days.

Here are a couple of things we might have missed during the celebrations:

BESE member resigns, is replaced

BESE member Tammie McDaniel of Oak Ridge - one of Gov. Jindal's appointees - resigned from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. One of Gov. Bobby Jindal's three appointees, she made news last summer when the governor asked her to resign from the board after she questioned Recovery District spending in New Orleans.

News-Star reporter Barbara Leader has the story in this article, in which McDaniel says she is leaving the board because she doesn't like all the federal intrusion into state education issues.

In McDaniel's place, Jindal has appointed Connie Bradford of Ruston to the board. She is the Head of School at Cedar Creek School, a private academy, in Ruston.

Jindal proposes no-growth education budget

Governor Bobby Jindal plans to spend no more on public education next year than this one, according to this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell.

That means the usual 2.75% growth factor, which used to be an automatic add-on to the Minimum Foundation Program, will be absent for the second year in a row. Jindal's announcement is not the last word on the subject. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is charged with writing the formula that distributes state money to local school districts, and the legislature has the responsibility to fund it.

News-Star editorial: Tell us more about "red tape reduction"

Northeast Louisiana's most influential newspaper is questioning Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposed education agenda for the upcoming session. The News-Star has an editorial asking for more specific information about the proposal.

LFT has already noted that the stated purpose of the Red Tape Reduction Act will do little to ease the paperwork burden on teachers.

The governor sounded rather specific at his press conference. But as the News-Star points out, the governor "served up platitudes and truisms and the promise of a bill in the next legislative session." But no bill has been produced for review.

The editorial says that supporters of the governor's "plan" should "ask if all stakeholders in public education — BESE, school boards, teachers, parents — will get a say in the bill's development."

That would be the responsible way to reform public education. Let's see if it's on the governor's agenda.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Can't we all just get along?

LFT President Steve Monaghan's letter to Governor Bobby Jindal is getting all kinds of media attention for pointing out the flaws in the governor's proposed education agenda. Headlines like "LFT chief decries Jindal’s plan to cut red tape" (Will Sentell in The Advocate), "Gov. Bobby Jindal's education proposal criticized by Louisiana Federation of Teachers" (Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte), "LFT president expresses concerns over Jindal school initiative" (Gannett reporter Mike Hasten) and others all lead by stressing Monaghan's criticism of Jindal's plan.

Journalism thrives on conflict, so it's fair that reporters concentrate on points of disagreement. But with the exception of Mike Hasten's, none of the reports delve into the most important issue raised by Monaghan - that the state would be better off if Governor Jindal would seek cooperation on areas of agreement.

It's a tack taken by LFT in negotiations with Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek over the state's Race to the Top application, and it works. Here's how LFT puts it in a press release:

Instead of pursuing an agenda that guarantees confrontation during the
upcoming session, Monaghan urged the governor to “embrace the philosophy that
marked our Race to the Top discussions.”

“Together, we can find ways to increase respect for and value in tenure
as the ‘meaningful and active process’ described in the application,” Monaghan
wrote. “We can have an honest discussion of R2T’s ‘learning environment index,’
and provide teachers with the power to identify impediments to achievement at
the site level and to trigger corrective action. We can debate ways to reward
teachers for excellence or for additional contributions without appearing to
attack teacher salary schedules.”

“Our recent experience with Superintendent Pastorek and his team in the
creation of the state’s R2T application demonstrated that engagement is far
better than disengagement,” Monaghan’s letter concluded. “We hope that we can
look forward to working with you in the interest of our children in the coming
legislative session.

Estimating conference punts on teacher salaries

The body that creates budget estimates for elementary and secondary education in Louisiana has decided against announcing an average teacher salary in the state, according to this article by Gannett reporter Mike Hasten.

A consultant hired by the Education Estimating Conference "guesstimated" that the average Louisiana teacher's salary would rise by 0.7% this year to $49,238. Muted coughs and muffled laughter greeted the figure - many Louisiana teachers, especially in poor, rural school systems, may never see a paycheck that high.

LFT President Steve Monaghan agreed with the conference's decision. "Why adopt figures that mean nothing?" he asked.

Roemer (jr) on senate campaign trail

BESE member Chas Roemer, anticipating a political campaign to unseat Senator Mary Landrieu, took on his own board yesterday in an effort to burnish credentials as a feisty political outsider - a tack almost identical to the one taken by his father who, running for governor while a member of Congress, promised to brick up the top three floors of the Department of Education.

Roemer, a third generation political insider, told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that "Louisiana’s top school board is broken and its meetings are so politically charged that 'you can hardly breathe,'" according to this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell.

While it is true that during the administration of Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek and Governor Bobby Jindal, the atmostphere at BESE meetings has often been rancorous, few members endorse Roemer's idea to reduce the number of BESE meetings.

Roemer, who represents the Baton Rouge area on the state's education board, attempted to woo the anti-public education vote by attacking teacher tenure. Roemer said that tenure, which is a guarantee of teachers' right to due process, makes it too hard to fire what he characterized as bad teachers.

LFT President Steve Monaghan responded that teachers undergo a rigorous three years of evaluations and must earn certification before they can be tenured. If the system fails to weed out Roemer's "bad teachers," Monaghan said, then "management is not doing its job."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bobby Jindal's big school flip-fop

Just a year ago, Gov. Bobby Jindal and his minions seemed to believe that school boards were the root of all evil. So incompetent and intrusive were school boards that the governor and Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek prevailed upon freshman legislator Steve Carter to introduce a package of bills that would have stripped local school boards of most of their authority. Joining Jindal and Pastorek in their crusade against local school boards were the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the Council for a Better Louisiana.

This year, Jindal and his cohorts are flipping like flapjacks. At a press conference attended by Pastorek, Carter LABI and CABL, the governor announced that there are too many restrictions on local school boards. His new legislative package seeks to empower school boards by allowing them to opt out of state laws and policies deemed "burdensome regulations ... that may hinder academic growth."

Judging from the governor's press release, it looks like one big target of the legislation is teacher tenure. That is another big flip-flop. The state's Jindal-approved application for federal Race to the Top funds aims to ensure that tenure “is a meaningful and active process” with “respect and value.”

The administration is no stranger to hypocritical flip-flops, though. This is the same bunch that touts education as the key to economic development while simultaneously stripping higher education budgets, eliminating programs and whole departments.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Saying something stupid...

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said something stupid a couple of days ago: “I spent a lot of time in New Orleans, and this is a tough thing to say, but let me be really honest. I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.”

Inevitably, when a gaffe that outrageous is committed, the apologies followed. Here is how the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported the apology; here is the Baton Rouge Advocate's version of the retraction.

Left hanging in the lurch after Duncan apologized were State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek and Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas, both of who nodded in bobbleheaded agreement with Duncan's careless comment.

LFT President Steve Monaghan said that Duncan's apology is acceptable, and offered a bit of advice to Pastorek and Vallas:

“Secretary Duncan did the right thing and to his credit, he did so rather quickly,” said Monaghan. “However, it is quite sad that some Louisiana education officials rushed to express their support for his comment. To those officials, we suggest that there is a reason why silence is so often considered golden."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is the Recovery School District shortchanging special needs children?

All public schools are supposed to admit students without regard to disability or special circumstances. But last week, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education heard a report detailing what Times-Picayune reporter Sarah Carr characterized as "wide, and stubborn, gaps in the number of students with special needs" in New Orleans' charter and Recovery School District schools.

Read her report here.

The comments by readers deserve special notice - there are first-hand reports of charter and RSD schools turning away special education students, even referring them to pricey private schools.

Stelly plan: told ya so

The chickens come home to roost. As has been pointed out umpteen times by EdLog, Governor Jindal and the legislature drove the ship of state into disastrous straits by undoing the Stelly tax reforms of 2002.

We now know that one victim of the tax cut fever that swept Baton Rouge in the past few years is our flagship university, which is about to be downsized to a dinghy.

As reported here by LSU Reveille reporter Xerxes A. Wilson, some 25,000 people have signed a petition "demanding state tax reform and constitutional change."

English instructor Tania Nyman told a rally over the weekend, “Gov. Jindal claims we must suffer this devastation as we tighten our belts in these tough economic times. But we know these cuts are not a result of the downturn in the economy. We know these cuts are a result of the governor and legislature’s decision to repeal tax reforms the people of Louisiana voted for almost 10 years ago.”

Some 400 non-tenured instructors at LSU have received termination letters, mirroring similar cuts at other state colleges and universities. Programs and even whole departments are on the line, at the same time that our so-called "leaders" hypocritically claim that education is Louisiana's hope for a better future.

Monday, February 1, 2010

NYT: Education law will mirror Race to Top

For anyone who still believes they can ignore the federal race to the Top program and it will eventually go away, this New York Times article is a big wake up call.

Times reporter Sam Dillon gets the story straight from capitol insiders. When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left behind) is reauthorized, it will closely follow the pattern set by R2T:

“They want to recast the law so that it is as close to Race to the Top as they can get it, making the money conditional on districts’ taking action to improve schools,” said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, who attended a recent meeting at which administration officials outlined their plans in broad strokes.

Like it or not, the new direction taken by the feds will include "value added data" - meaning that teachers and schools will be judged, at least in part, by the progress made by individual students during the school year.

Teachers and their unions have an opportunity to get involved and influence the directions taken by public education in the future. Ignoring this trend, however, is a one-way path to irrelevance.