Tuesday, June 29, 2010

EdLog taking a vacation

EdLog will be on hiatus until late July. Have a wonderful summer!

New study: "No clear edge for charter schools"

Courtesy of Education Week, a new study by Mathematica Policy Research of Princetion, NJ, reveals that "Students who won lotteries to attend charter middle schools performed, on average, no better in mathematics and reading than their peers who lost out in the random admissions process and enrolled in nearby regular public schools..."

Monaghan: Session was "very painful"

Advocate reporter Will Sentell wraps up the legislative session's effects on education in this article.

Depending on how you look at it, this was either a wonderful session for public education, or a most painful one.

Coming down on the "wonderful" side is the Jindal administration, which pushed hard for pieces of legislation that teachers and school employees really hate. Those include an unnecessary teacher evaluation bill, and a really awful scheme that allows school boards to seek waivers for virtually any law or policy governing education.

Says Jindal's chief legal counsel, "It was an enormously successful session when it comes to education."

LFT President Steve Monaghan calls the session "very painful." He reflects the mood of the state's teachers and school employees, saying, "I don't think anybody would consider the 2010 session any renaissance of the legislative process."

Pastorek takes blame for loss of stipends

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek is taking credit for the loss of $16.3 million for stipends paid to nationally certified educators, according to this Associated Press article in the Shreveport Times.

Pastorek says the stipend payments would have deeply cut his education department budget, so he asked Governor Jindal to veto the line item.

Says LFT President Steve Monaghan, "This is very disappointing, demonstrating a breathtaking lack of understanding for the effort educators have made to enhance their skills and improve our schools."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Outrage as Jindal vetoes teacher stipends

In a move guaranteed to outrage educators, Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed $16.3 million to pay stipends for nationally certified teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers and school speech language pathologists and audiologists.

The governor announced his vetoes late Friday. While local school systems must by law pick up the stipends for teachers, some of the others will lose their stipends if school boards choose not to fund them.

The governor also "unraveled efforts to shield Southern University and Southeastern Louisiana University from significant budget cuts," according to this article by Advocate reporters Michelle Millhollon and Mark Ballard.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pastorek slips legislative snares

Is state Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek very lucky, or as wily as a Borgia pope?

That's the question roiling Baton Rouge today. Two separate Advocate articles reveal that Pastorek slipped through snares set by his legislative foes just as easily as that BP oil evades efforts to capture it.

Lawmakers thought they had Pastorek on the ropes with passage of Senate Bill 302. Originally intended to assign letter grades to schools and school districts (the public apparently finding numbers too baffling to understand), the bill was amended to require the state school board to evaluate Pastorek every year and give lawmakers a written copy of the report.

Thinking they had staged a coup, legislators crowed Monday night and on into Tuesday morning that they had finally humbled Pastorek.

But as Will Sentell reports in this Advocate story, the House of Representatives didn't actually pass the bill, "even though the Legislature's Web site said Monday evening that it had won final approval."

"Even state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie and sponsor of the bill, was surprised to learn on Tuesday afternoon that his bill failed to win final House approval," according to Sentell.

Score one for Pastorek.

The second incident came with the apparent failure of a top Pastorek aide to win Senate approval for a plum $160,000 position.

The superintendent wanted Karen Burke, the former head of the state's Recovery School District, to become assistant superintendent of the Office of Educator Support, a position that required senate confirmation.

Any senator can blackball a nomination, as Advocate reporter Marsha Shuler tells the story here. And more than one senator was apparently willing to drop one on the superintendent.

Denied the confirmation, Pastorek simply slipped Burk into an unfilled position that had been approved last August. The job pays $160,000 per year.

The maneuver won't win the superintendent any friends in a department which recently laid off 31 employees, but Pastorek doesn't see himself in any sort of popularity contest, anyway.

In this game, the score stands at Pastorek 2, legislature zero.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

LFT member taking a stand for children

Congratulations to St. Landry Federation of Teachers member Madeline Taylor, who is tossing her hat in the ring for election to the parish school board.

Says Taylor, who will retire from teaching if she wins the election, "All the work I have done and continue to do has children as my primary focus. I am an advocate for what is best for the children as well as their parents who seek the finest educational resources that the St. Landry Parish School System has to offer. After all, our children are our greatest and most precious assets."

The Opelousas Daily World has the full story here.

Is the Jindal budget more harmful than the BP spill?

Gambit publisher and WWL-TV analyst Clancy DuBos poses a disturbing question: What's more harmful to Louisiana's culture, the BP oil spill or the just-adopted state budget pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal?

DuBos makes a really good case for Jindal. The state's bare-bones budget, he writes, "does more long-term damage to 'culture' across Louisiana than the BP disaster."

From higher education cuts to local arts programs, Dubos says, the governor's stance makes way for culture and the arts to "become collateral damage in his budget wars."

Dubos concludes, "...the next time you see Jindal railing against the feds and BP about the destruction of our culture, remember that he's one of the biggest destroyers of all.

Friday, June 18, 2010

LFT to file lawsuit challenging “Red Tape” act

(Baton Rouge – June 18, 2010) The Louisiana Federation of Teachers will file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of HB 1368, the so-called “Red Tape Reduction and Local Waiver Empowerment Program,” Federation President Steve Monaghan announced today.

“As we argued before every committee that heard the bill, we believe that this act is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority,” Monaghan said. “The legislature simply does not have the right to hand off its responsibility to another branch of government.

“We are filing this lawsuit out of respect for the value of law,” Monaghan said.

As passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives, the bill would allow local school superintendents, with school board approval, to ask the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for a waiver of virtually any law or policy governing public education.

BESE is a policy-making body comprising 11 members. Eight are elected, and three are appointed by the governor.

“If allowed to stand, this law will permit BESE to act as a legislative body,” Monaghan said. “That board will be allowed to decide which of the laws passed by the legislature will be enforced, and in which communities.

“By outsourcing its legislative authority to BESE and allowing the selective enforcement of duly enacted laws,” Monaghan continued, “we believe the State Legislature has unconstitutionally ceded its authority to another entity.”

Monaghan said that HB 1368 is very different from the state’s charter school law, which allows waivers of laws and policies that affect other public schools.

“In establishing charter schools, the legislature itself spelled out the laws and policies which could be set aside for a charter experiment,” Monaghan said. “But in the “Red Tape” act, the legislature is giving BESE the discretion to cherry-pick which laws can be flouted, and in which school districts. That is a crucial distinction.”

Federation General Counsel Larry Samuel said the lawsuit will be filed in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge after it is signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal. The suit will ask for an injunction prohibiting BESE from taking any action based on authority granted by the “Red Tape” act.

“We do not believe that we are breaking new ground with this suit,” Samuel said. “We believe there is adequate, settled case law proving that the legislature does not have the constitutional authority to delegate its responsibilities to an administrative body.”

Schools may need BP money to offset losses

Education Week reporter Alyson Klein has a story online saying that states affected by the BP oil disaster may need the oil company's compensation funds to offset revenue losses due to the massive oil leak.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Senate joins House, capitulates to Jindal

Times-Picayune reporter Bill Barrow was on the scene last night when the Senate joined the House of Representatives in surrendering its lawmaking authority to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Since the "Red Tape Reduction and Local Waiver Empowerment Program" was greatly desired by Gov. Bobby Jindal, it always had a strong chance of passing - another example of the power wielded by the Louisiana governor's office.

But just because the governor want it, does not mean it is good law. And HB 1368 by Rep. Jane Smith (R-Bossier City) is very bad law.

This is the first instance in which the Louisiana Legislature actually punted its lawmaking authority to a policy-making board, in this case the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

And because three of the 11 BESE members are appointed by the governor, the executive branch will gain even more leverage over public education in the state.

LFT strongly opposed the bill, with members of the Federation's Action Center sending some 30,000 messages of opposition to lawmakers. For more of the Federation's reaction to the vote, please click here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

No more "Omnia gallia in tres partes divisa est?"

Word is out that LSU is planning to drop some of the degree programs that entitle it to be called the state's flagship university.

On the block are degrees in Latin, German and Classics. If you think that suximus maximus, send an e-mail to the LSU Board of Supervisors here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Red Tape" waiting for the 11th hour

The decision on Gov. Bobby Jindal's so-called "Red Tape reduction and Local Waiver Empowerment Program" (HB 1368 by Rep. Jane Smith, R-Bossier City), is being delayed, along with a number of important bills.

As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes here, "...dozens of other proposals are also awaiting debate in the often chaotic final days before any adjournment, which in this case is June 21."

The "Red Tape" act is particularly vexing to teachers and school employees because it fits so poorly into the mix of school reforms that have been adopted already.

The governor's plan would allow school systems to ask for waivers from virtually any law or policy that governs public education. That includes class size, instructional time, funding and personnel issues like teacher tenure.

But at the same time, another newly-passed law seeks to standardize teacher evaluations across the state. There's an obvious collision course: teachers working under widely varying classroom conditions cant be expected to conform to a single evaluation standard.

Just as troubling is the thought of a legislature volunteering to surrender its lawmaking authority. If the bill passes, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will be the body that grants waivers to local school boards. BESE is a policy board, not a lawmaking body.

Note that in Sentell's article, Gov. Jindal's lawyer avoids talking about the bill's possible constitutional SNAFU, but instead says just that they probably have the muscle to get it passed in the Senate.

Passage of the bill would set the concept of separation of powers on its ear. There's still a chance to send senators a message of opposition to HB 1368; please click here for redirection to the LFT Action Center.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Tax expenditures" are draining the state

This is an important concept: tax breaks are tax expenditures. Every tax exemption and every tax credit costs the state money. As this Advocate column by Lanny Keller points out, Louisiana spends some $7 billion a year on tax expenditures, while tax revenue - the amount actually collected by the state - is about $8 billion.

We give back in tax breaks almost as much as we collect in taxes. That has been well-documented by the Louisiana Budget Project.

Imagine the shape our state would be in if lawmakers would rein in those expenditures by just a few percentage points. One-seventh of the giveaway would pretty much solve our problems.

As Keller notes, some, perhaps even many, of the tax breaks are necessary to protect vulnerable citizens. Those would certainly include sales tax breaks on food, prescription drugs, home utilities, etc.

Others may be important incentives to bring jobs to the state.

Problem is, as the column says, none of these billions of dollars in tax expenditures is ever reconsidered. Some have long outlived their usefulness, and yet they continue to cost the state money.

That ought to be considered as we slash funding for education, health care, recreation and other quality-of-life issues that are also very important in attracting businesses and jobs to the state.

Friday, June 11, 2010

State budget in turmoil; revenues lower than expected

The state budget, HB 1 by Rep. Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro), is bogged down in the Senate Finance Committee, and there is no clear picture of what the budget will actually look like after the session ends on June 21.

As proposed, the $25.4 billion budget includes deep cuts for higher education, health care and a number of other state responsibilities. But as reported in the May 21 edition of the Weekly Legislative Digest, the Senate and House of Representatives are at loggerheads over resolving a shortfall facing the state in the current budget year.

The stumbling block is over use of the state’s “rainy day fund” to shore up the budget. While both sides want to use the fund to avoid a constitutionally prohibited deficit, they disagree over how and when the funds should be repaid.

The situation grew murkier on Friday, when the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference met to announce yet another shortfall in state revenues. With just two weeks left in the fiscal year, state economists said that revenues have fallen by another $261.4 million this year.

The state already cut this fiscal year’s budget by $200 million last December, and by another $319 million in April.

Leading the most recent decline in estimated revenues is a $250 million shortfall in collection of personal income taxes.

As Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the legislative fiscal office, said, “Obviously, we have been dramatically wrong this year.”

That set up yet another confrontation between the House and Senate. Speaker of the House Jim Tucker (R-Terrytown) said the Revenue Estimating Conference should not accept the economist’s report until the end of the year, and use some constitutional sleight-of-hand to pay back the deficit in the coming year.

Senate President Joel Chaisson (D-Destrehan), on the other hand, said the constitution does not allow a deficit, and recommended that the conference recognize the shortfall, which would require more cuts over the next couple of weeks.

Because decisions by the Revenue Estimating Conference must be unanimous, the issue was left hanging at that point.

The Senate Finance Committee will continue its discussion of HB1 next week.

MFP: Pain in classrooms and communities

The House Education Committee met in a rare evening session Thursday to approve a zero-growth Minimum Foundation Program formula that LFT President Steve Monaghan said is likely to cause “pain in the classroom and pain in the communities.”

Without a dissenting vote, the committee sent HCR 243 by Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans), public education’s $3.4 billion budget, to the full House. Missing from the formula for the second year in a row is the traditional 2.75% “growth factor” that local school systems rely on to meet rising costs. The MFP will increase by about $44 million, but that is only to meet the per-pupil cost of about 6,000 new students in public schools.

Earlier in the week, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed to scale back its budget request because of the state’s yawning gap between expenses and anticipated revenues. The state constitution forbids adoption of a budget with a deficit.

Monaghan was the only representative of an education organization to address the committee. He told members that failure to include the $65 million growth factor will be felt throughout the state. K-12 schools have already lost about $85 million in state funding this year, he said.

“If one appreciates the ‘bounce’ that school expenditures bring to local communities,” Monaghan said, “then one understands how the loss of revenues will impact the economy of whole communities.”

Monaghan cautioned that next year’s budget will pose an even greater threat of cuts.
While the recent recession is responsible for some of Louisiana’s budget woes, Monaghan said, the state would be in much better shape had governors and lawmakers not pushed for so many tax breaks during years when the economy was bright.

A report from the Louisiana Budget Project notes that Louisiana grants more than 400 tax expenditures in the form of deductions, exemptions and credits, Monaghan said. That amounts to more than $7 billion and is nearly as much as the state takes in as revenues.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

LFT president:”There will be pain” because of MFP

(Baton Rouge – June 10, 2010) When LFT President Steve Monaghan testifies before the House Education Committee on BESE's resubmitted Zero Growth MFP formula, he will do so with a full appreciation of the action most likely to be taken by the committee.

“I am under no illusion regarding the likely outcome tonight,” Monaghan said. The committee no doubt finds itself between the proverbial rock and a hard place, but this Federation sees this as just another chapter in a long struggle to raise legislative and community consciousness regarding school funding.”

It appears very likely that the MFP will advance, for the second year in a row, without the 2.75% “growth factor” that school districts have relied upon to meet the growing cost of educating children and keeping teacher compensation competitive. On Tuesday, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education stripped the $65 million growth factor from its funding request.

Some lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office had sent strong signals to BESE that an enhanced MFP would be rejected, triggering a brief impasse between the legislature and the state’s school board.

On Tuesday, BESE acquiesced.

Later today, Monaghan will repeat in part his testimony before BESE by sharing three observations.
  • There will be additional pain in our classrooms and our communities because of the MFP. In sampling of districts, $85 million has already been cut from school budgets across the state.

“If one appreciates the ‘bounce’ that school expenditures bring to local communities,” he will say, “then one understands how the loss of revenues will impact the economy of whole communities.”

  • Five years ago, an ad-hoc committee called the MFP Task Force discussed creating an “adequacy study.” Its goal would have been to determine how much it would cost to provide a truly appropriate education for all Louisiana children.

That idea was tabled on February 23, 2006, and the task force has failed to reconvene since then.

  • A report from the Louisiana Budget Project has reported that Louisiana grants more than 400 tax expenditures in the form of deductions, exemptions and credits, which amounts to more than $7 billion and is nearly as much as the state takes in as revenues.”

An urgent need for the state to investigate these tax expenditures now grows critical. Any that do not serve to create jobs, add to the quality of life of our citizens, and grow the state economy should be challenged so the state can fulfill its obligation to provide services for the people of Louisiana.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

BESE revamps MFP without "growth factor"

Bowing to pressure from the legislature and Governor Bobby Jindal, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday agreed to a standstill K-12 education budget for the second year in a row.

“This will cause pain in the cities and in the hinterlands,” said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan. “And it will only get worse next year, when another budget shortfall is predicted.”

Although BESE had, at first, proposed a traditional 2.76% increase in aid to public schools, lawmakers made it clear that any increase in funding would be rejected this year.

The funding formula for public schools, called the Minimum Foundation Program, is created by BESE, but has to be approved and funded by the legislature. Lawmakers can either accept or reject the formula, but cannot change it.

In the recent, BESE has approved at least 2.75% more for the MFP as a growth factor. But as the full effects of the recent recession kicked in, lawmakers and the governor balked at increasing funding.

This year, BESE asked for an increase of $109 million in the MFP. Of that, about $44 million is needed to pay for an increase of about 6,000 students in public schools. The rest, some $65 million, constituted the growth factor.

The legislature has not rejected this year’s funding request, but has sent strong signals that the $65 million growth factor is a stumbling block that would result in rejection.

BESE therefore decided to convene and restructure the MFP request before lawmakers could take action.

What is missing in the discussion of school funding, Monaghan said, is any mention of the actual cost of educating children.

Five years ago, Monaghan said, a Minimum Foundation Program task force was considered in order to conduct an adequacy study. Its goal would have been to determine how much it would cost to provide a truly appropriate education for all Louisiana children.

That idea was tabled on February 23, 2006, and the task force has failed to reconvene since then.

Advocate reporter Will Sentell covered the BESE meeting for this story.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

With heavy amendments. "Red Tape" act advances

With an overflow crowd of educators as witnesses, the Senate Education Committee on Friday approved a heavily-amended version of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s pet legislation, the so-called “Red Tape Reduction and Local Waiver Empowerment Program,” HB 1368 by Rep. Jane Smith (R-Bossier City).

The bill, described by LFT President Steve Monaghan as the “most dangerous” item on the session’s agenda, would allow local school superintendents, with the permission of the school board, to ask for a waiver of virtually any law or policy regarding public education. In its original form, only health and safety issues could not be waived.

Under heavy pressure from the governor's office, wary lawmakers have moved the bill through the process while trying to chip away at its worst aspects.In the House of Representatives, for example, it was amended to ensure that school food service rules could not be waived.

As HB 1368 made its debut in the Senate Education committee, Chairman Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa) admitted that his preference would be to scrap the bill and start over. Since legislative rules don’t allow that, Sen. Nevers introduced a pile of amendments aimed at making the bill “palatable” to teachers and school employees.

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

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Will value-added evaluations help Race to the Top?

Louisiana's education leaders are hopeful that passage of Act 54, the state's new value-added model of teacher evaluation, will help the state's application for federal Race to the Top funds.

As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes here, enactment of the new model is the only big change in the state's application. Whether it will be enough to earn the state $175 million remains to be seen.

Pay-for-performance: Not so fast!

A new study is showing that basing teacher pay on student academic achievement does not guarantee better results, according to this Education Week story by reporter Stephen Sawchuk.

The study indicates that the Chicago Teacher Advancement Program, a local variety of the TAP program underway in some Louisiana schools, hasn't enhanced student performance in math and reading, nor has it improved teacher retention.

That could come as a blow to TAP fans in Louisiana who hope that it will become the model for a new teacher compensation model under consideration by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Educational Excellence.

TAP has a few things going for it that are undeniably good education practice: smaller class sizes, embedded professional development, master teachers, and a collegial atmosphere.

TAP becomes controversial in its method of rewarding teachers for student achievement. TAP is the proprietary product of the Milken Family Foundation, meaning that no one is allowed to see all of its inner workings. Teachers cannot tell other teachers how much they receive as bonuses, for example.

And like all educational programs, TAP is only as good as its management. In Calcasieu Parish, the TAP experiment was so dogged with poor management that it was eventually banished from the school district. There are other places where it seems to be working well and has won the support of educators.

Ultimately, pay-for-performance will not prove to be the answer to better student achievement. Teachers aren't like salesmen, whose motivation is simply moving more product.

Teachers are professionals. Pay them well - and pay them more for taking on additional responsibilities and enhancing their credentials. Give them the resources they need, in an atmosphere conducive to teaching and learning. That's when we'll see real improvement.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Anti-teacher column unfair, unwarranted and untrue

When the Houma Courier published a guest column from the far-right Lexington Institute that accused teacher unions of engaging in "pitched battles" to "keep public schools safe for mediocrity," LFT President Steve Monaghan had to respond.

In his own letter to the newspaper, Monaghan asserted that, "More than anyone else, teachers want their students to succdeed."

The attack by the Lexington Institute was "unfair, unwarranted and, most of all, untrue," Monaghan wrote.

The Lexington Institute is just one of many well-funded think tanks from which issue an endless stream of diatribes against the notion of the public good. Privatization of public services is their goal, and public schools are squarely in their sights.

The original column is here; Monaghan's response is here.