Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A bad day for good government

With little debate, BESE adopts MFP that funds vouchers

February 27, 2012 was not a good day for good government.

In a more than obvious display of deference to Governor Bobby Jindal, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Monday approved a public school funding formula that would guarantee spending taxpayer money – including local education funds - for private and religious school tuition vouchers.

With almost no public input and very little opportunity to inspect the document, BESE voted to send the $3.41 billion Minimum Foundation Program formula to the legislature for adoption. The legislature must either approve or reject the formula, but may not amend it.

If the MFP is approved by lawmakers, and if the governor’s as-yet unveiled voucher law is adopted, students receiving vouchers would, for the first time, be included in the student count of the local school board and would be eligible for both the state and local shares of education funds.

This unprecedented action raises serious constitutional questions, and is currently being reviewed by legal counsel.

To read more, please click here.

Better Choices launches petition drive

The Better Choices for a Better Louisiana coalition was created with a simple guiding principle: that a prosperous future for Louisiana requires a transparent and balanced approach to budgeting that includes responsible revenue measures alongside common-sense savings.

Governor Bobby Jindal has launched an aggressive attempt to privatize state services such as health care, prisons and schools, shift cost and financial risk to state workers and give even more tax breaks to large corporations. But there are better choices available, and we need your help to remind legislators of his by signing the attached online petition.

The BCBL coalition is urging legislators to not make wholesale commitments, sight unseen, to the governor's agenda. Legislators should instead demand transparency, accountability, and detailed, measurable outcomes.

There are better choices for creating jobs, improving health care and public safety, building better schools and infrastructure to create a more prosperous future for Louisiana. And it starts by letting your voice be heard.

Please sign the online petition today in support of Louisiana’s future.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Stand for Children, or Stand for Profit?

Stand for Children presents itself as a grassroots, pro-education organization. And that's how it began. But as this video shows, Stand for Children morphed from its original intent into a lobbying arm of the for-profit education cabal.

Friday, February 17, 2012

State, not parents, may decide who gets vouchers

State Superintendent of Education John White

In a revealing discussion of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s school voucher scheme, State Superintendent of Education John White said Thursday that the State Department of Education, not parents or schools, will have the final say in deciding which students get to attend private and religious schools at public expense.

White’s admission came after State Rep. John Bel Edwards said that he objects to the governor’s voucher plan because non-public schools will not have to conform to the same accountability standards as their public counterparts, and because they are able to selectively determine their students.

Addressing the luncheon crowd at the League of Women Voters of Baton Rouge meeting, Edwards said, “If you don’t think the private and parochial schools will cherry pick the best students, you didn’t just eat a seafood lunch.”

The Jindal administration is making vouchers a centerpiece of the 2012 legislative agenda, claiming that parents should have more choices for their children’s education. Opponents say that, unless the schools release information comparable to that available for public schools, parents cannot make an informed choice.

In his answer to those objections, White revealed that neither the parent nor the school will actually be deciding which students attend the voucher schools.

Under the plan, private and religious schools will tell the state how many voucher students whey are prepared to accept. Parents interested in the program will give the state a list of schools they would like their children to attend. Bureaucrats at the State Department of Education would then presumably match the students to the school.

“The state then says to the school…you are going to take those children,” White said. “At that point it is the law that you accept those children.”

Rather than appease opponents, White’s announcement is likely to raise many more questions about the voucher scheme. Parents may be shocked to learn that, despite the governor’s talk about parental choice, the real decisions will be made by the State Department of Education.
And skeptics will continue to believe that the private and religious schools will find ways to ultimately exclude any students that believe do not fit in their institutions.

LFT leader to League: Listen to educators!

United Teachers of New Orleans President Larry Carter

United Teachers of New Orleans President Larry Carter delivered an important message to the League of Women Voters of Baton Rouge this week: include teachers and school employees when making policy for public education.

The message was a timely one, as lawmakers are preparing to vote on some radical overhauls of public education when the legislative session begins on March 12.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has announced that he will push for changes that could destroy the teacher salary schedule, endanger tenure and due process rights, radically expand vouchers for private and religious schools and impose even more state control over local school districts.

What’s missing in the governor’s agenda, Carter said, is the voice of professional educators.
“We must never lose sight of the fact that educators are the experts in the classroom,” Carter told the League. “The voice of teachers should be at the center of the dialog.”

Carter reminded the audience that “teaching conditions are learning conditions,” and said that in all too many circumstances, schools lack textbooks, learning materials an even properly certified teachers. Teachers should not be blamed for circumstances they cannot control, he said, and ought to be consulted about the best ways to improve our schools.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Advocate calls 'baloney' on higher education budget

Today's editorial in The Advocate calls 'baloney' Gov. Bobby Jindal's claim that his proposed budget spares higher education from further budget cuts.

Baton Rouge's own Gray Lady gets it right: "Behind a bureaucratic fa├žade, the reality is that Gov. Bobby Jindal has again proposed cutting state government’s support for higher education, forcing colleges to make up reduced state aid with increased tuition and fees."

Advocate editorialists point out that the governor's budget, which they call "Category 5 political spin," includes a $50 million mid-year reduction from this year, and relies on tuition increases to avoid going into negative territory.

"Louisiana’s future is the poorer for this," the editorial concludes. "But it will provide endless material for college courses of the future, in which the political abuse of language is discussed."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bad news trifecta for Jindal's voucher scheme

It hasn't been the best week for Gov. Bobby Jindal's voucher scheme. His plan was blasted from several different directions because it lacks accountability.

On Monday, Advocate reporter Will Sentell posted this story, saying that school superintendents oppose the voucher plan because private and religious schools that accept vouchers will not be held to the same standards as public schools.

The president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents told Sentell that public schools are given letter grades based on their performance scores, and that all students in public schools must take standardized tests. Unless voucher schools are held to the same standards, he said, parents cannot make informed choices about where to send their children to school.

Also on Monday, the head of the Coalition for Louisiana Progress told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that the governor's voucher scheme is unworkable, according to this story by Advocate bureau chief Mark Ballard.

Melissa Flournoy, who once served as a state representative, told the press club that students "could actually end up in schools that are worse than what they had in the public sector system. At the end of the day vouchers, however appealing they might sound, they will not be a viable public sector response.”

Flournoy said that vouchers would divert money from public schools, and that it would not be possible to find private and religious school seats for the 380,000 students who could be eligible for vouchers under Jindal's plan.

The governor's scheme hit a trifecta of sorts when the Louisiana Budget Project released this study, headlined "Governor Jindal's Voucher Plan Gets an 'F' for Accountability."

The first paragraph of the report sums it all up:

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to dramatically increase the number of students who can attend private schools at public expense is missing a key safeguard: strong oversight and accountability to ensure kids are learning and that taxpayer money is being well-spent. Unfortunately, the governor has rejected all suggestions that private schools be held accountable for their performance in the same way as public schools. Instead, his plans would hand over public resources to private schools with no strings attached.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tell lawmakers: Don't commit to an education agenda that hasn't even been written yet!

Please click here to send a message!

The legislative session won't begin for another month, but Gov. Bobby Jindal is already pressuring lawmakers to unquestioningly support his agenda for public education.

The governor is asking for commitments to his plan even though legislators have not seen the bills he intends to introduce.

Judging from his speeches, the governor’s education plan will

  • Destroy the teacher salary schedule

  • Endanger tenure and due process rights

  • Radically expand vouchers for private and religious schools

  • Impose even more state control of local school districts
Please send a message to your senator and representative. Our message simply asks lawmakers not to commit to the governor’s agenda until each of his plans has a chance to be debated openly, transparently and on its merits.

After all, that’s the reason we have a legislative session. If all of the real decisions are made under pressure and behind closed doors, our leaders have failed us.

Please click here to send a message!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Layoffs, privatization and increased employee costs in state budget

For the fourth year in a row, Gov. Bobby Jindal proposes a state budget that freezes public education’s Minimum Foundation Program funding at the 2008-09 level.

In an effort to close a looming $895 million budget gap, the governor also plans to privatize and consolidate prisons, eliminate more than 6,000 state jobs, cut funding for health care and raise retirement costs for state employees.

While the governor says that his $25.5 billion state budget will not cut funding for higher education, that pledge depends on higher tuition for students and increased retirement costs for college and university employees.

In a memo to LSU system higher-ups, system President John Lombardi explained what he termed the Jindal administration’s “good treatment” of higher education, which has suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts in recent years.

In exchange for that good treatment, Lombardi wrote, the governor expects higher education officials to “avoid negative messages about higher ed funding” and to recognize that the additional $100 million that employees will have to pay into their retirement plans is good for colleges and universities.

Areas outside of education will be hit hard to absorb the proposed cuts.

If the governor’s budget is approved, employee contributions to the Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System will increase by three percentage points, which will equate to a cut in take-home pay.

Division of Administration Commissioner Paul Rainwater said that no changes are proposed for the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana this year because the Jindal administration plans so many other public education “reforms.”

Some of the most governor’s controversial plans that failed last year are back in this year’s budget proposal. Once again, Jindal has plans to sell the Avoyelles Correctional Center to a private company. He also wants to fire state employees from the Office of Group Benefits and hire a private management company to manage the public employee health plan.

Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon has more on the proposed budget in this story.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How is LFT responding to Superintendent of Education John White’s request for waivers of No Child Left Behind Act waivers?

With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) stalled in Congress, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced last fall that his department will offer waivers of some provisions of the Act. In exchange for flexibility, states are required to implement education reforms. Thus far, 10 states have applied for and received waivers of NCLB requirements.

This week, Superintendent of Education John White unveiled a PowerPoint presentation that broadly outlines the Louisiana Department of Education’s wish list. His department is already asking stakeholders to sign statements of support for the request.

But White has not released the state’s official application for waivers, even though the deadline for public comments on the document is February 16.

Based on the scant information in the PowerPoint presentation, LFT has concerns about the direction White wants to take in asking for waivers of federal education requirements.

For starters, the presentation calls for “merit-based certification, compensation, tenure and retention.” That sounds good, but what does it mean? In conversation, White has questioned even the value of a college major in a subject area for teachers.

His presentation, which features the liberal use of the word “empower,” calls for parental choice including “early childhood, traditional public, charter, private, virtual, industry, university.” Is the superintendent asking the U.S. Department of Education to approve a voucher scheme? The details have yet to be released.

The slide show also asks for “Freedom from retrograde labor rules and burdensome funding restrictions,” without defining retrograde labor rules or identifying burdensome funding restrictions.

The superintendent says he wants to “eliminate school and district improvement plans,” but favors “enhancing accountability.” These are broad strokes that beg for explanation.

White says that he would like to strip School Performance Score criteria down to bare bones. Kindergarten through eighth grade schools would be judged solely on iLEAP and LEAP scores; high school scores would be based on ACT performance (50%) and the cohort graduation rate (50%).

Are these criteria supported by research and data? Who will pay for all the ACT tests that must be administered? Isn’t there room for multiple indicators of school performance, such as disciplinary actions, attendance levels and other elements of a Learning Environment Index?

The presentation raises many questions about issues such as redefining subgroups, rewards and interventions, classifying schools based on performance, etc.

Based on the information available, Superintendent White’s plan is not ready for prime time, and time is growing short. Public comment on the as-yet unpublished draft is expected by February 16.

BESE board approval of the “revised accountability concepts and policies” is expected to be complete by next summer, with final approval by August, with full implementation scheduled for the 2012-13 academic year.
Here is what the U.S. Department of Education has to say about applying for waivers:

To get flexibility from NCLB, states must adopt and have a plan to
implement college and career-ready standards. They must also create
comprehensive systems of teacher and principal development, evaluation and
support that include factors beyond test scores, such as principal observation,
peer review, student work, or parent and student feedback.

States receiving waivers no longer have to meet 2014 targets set by
NCLB but they must set new performance targets for improving student achievement
and closing achievement gaps.
They also must have accountability systems that
recognize and reward high-performing schools and those that are making
significant gains, while targeting rigorous and comprehensive interventions for
the lowest-performing schools.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Jindal is cherry-picking for vouchers

As Gov. Bobby Jindal ramps up his scheme to spend public education funds on tuition for private and religious schools, evidence is mounting that vouchers do little or nothing to actually improve academic achievement.

That was true last summer, when former BESE member Leslie Jacobs' Educate Now organization produced this study. It revealed that in New Orleans, where Gov. Jindal rammed through a voucher program a couple of years ago, "for the second year in a row, students participating in the voucher program performed worse than students in the RSD!"

And it's true now, as this story by Times-Picayune reporter Andrew Vanacore demonstrates.

Vanacore says the administration "has cherry-picked the rosiest figures" in pushing for a radical, state-wide expansion of the voucher program.

The reporter cites expert researchers who say the New Orleans voucher experiment simple does not provide enough data to draw reliable conclusions about its success.

Jindal's main argument in favor of vouchers is that parents should have more choice. But the article points out that the governor's voucher program does not give parents the facts they need to make an informed choice.

Writes Vanacore:

The absence of hard data may complicate the politics of trying to pass an expansion of the voucher program through the Legislature. Even some of the governor's natural allies, including backers of the charter school movement in New Orleans, are concerned about whether private schools will be held
accountable for the results they produce.
While students on vouchers in New Orleans take the LEAP exam, the schools they attend do not get school performance scores, which would require scores from every student in the building. Without a performance score, the state cannot assign those private schools the letter grades that public schools receive.
All of which leaves parents with less information about how a particular private school is performing.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bobby Jindal: The man behind the curtain

The little fake magician pulling levers in The Wizard of Oz told his audience to "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" when the secret of his trickery was revealed.

He'd been practicing what professional magicians call misdirection. Smoke, mirrors and noise distract the audience from the shabby reality of the trick. Keep your eye on the fluttering handkerchief in this hand while the other palms a quarter.

In today's Advocate, columnist James Minton pulls away the curtain concealing the facts behind Gov. Bobby Jindal's so-called education "reform agenda."

Minton writes that two of the state's highest performing school systems are starving because the governor has refused to increase school spending for the past three years. It is a story that is repeating itself in systems across Louisiana. Schools of excellence and challenged schools alike are struggling.

Teachers are being furloughed. Important programs that actually improve student achievement have been slashed by Jindal. Those include after school tutorials, reading and math initiatives, technology investments and stipends for nationally certified teachers.

The governor's spin machine is busily churning out misdirection, blaming teachers and school boards for his failure to adequately fund public education.

The fluttering handkerchief says "we can't keep spending a billion dollars a year on failing schools," while the hidden truth is that good schools and good teachers are facing disaster.

The secret behind the curtain is this: the governor and his allies are more interested in a radical destruction of public services than in improving schools. Like anti-tax hobgoblin Grover Norquist, they want to "shrink government small enough to drown it in a bath tub." What little is left, they'd like to divert to Wall Street corporations.

That is why the governor and company want a voucher scheme that could send some 380,000 children to unregulated private and religious schools. It's why they want to privatize prisons, pensions and health care. It's why the governor opposed even the extension of a cigarette tax aimed at treating cancer.

The real action is behind the curtain. It's there if we'd only bother to look.