The 2013 Louisiana Legislative Session: What Did We Gain?
The 2013 Louisiana legislative session ended this evening (Thursday, June 6th). It was not the surprise attack of 2012, a time when both House and Senate majorities seemed bent upon unquestioningly bowing to Jindal in his efforts to blindside traditional public education. To my knowledge, there was no locking teachers out of the Capitol this year or demanding that teachers who wished to testify openly declare that they were choosing to be absent from the classroom, an effort to humiliate those wishing to participate in the democratic process.
It was a better session, one in which many legislators asked critical questions before voting. In general, the House Education Committee and the House in general are tired of reformer nonsense. The Senate Education Committee still has a majority kissing the Jindal hindside. Not so much from the Senate in general, but I don’t think they were tired of Jindal to the degree that the House was.
This is progress, folks.
Let me begin with COMPASS. HB 160, an effort to delay the application of COMPASS for one year, made it though the House Ed Committee and the House but died by a 4 – 3 vote in the Senate Ed Committee. HB 160 was then amended and attached to HB 129, but HB 129 was not addressed. So, for now, we still have COMPASS to deal with.
ACT 1 was declared unconstitutional in the lower courts for violating a “single object” requirement of the state constitution. Jindal et al. appealed to the La. Supreme Court, which means that COMPASS is still in effect. (I know, it doesn’t seem fair, but that is how it works– the appeal kept COMPASS in force.) Meanwhile, Act 2 (vouchers) was declared unconstitutional, not for “single object” violation but for use of MFP for expenses not tied to public schools. So, the La. Supreme Court decided on Friday, May 30th, to send Act 1 back to the lower court for reconsideration of the “single object” unconstitutionality finding given that the La. Supreme Court did not declare Act 2 unconstitutional for that reason. (Difficult to follow, I know. Just reread the paragraph a couple of times.)
Here is an official statement from LFT:
On Friday, the Louisiana Supreme Court handed down a ruling vacating a lower court decision that Act 1 of 2012 violated the single object provision of the Louisiana Constitution, and remanding the case to the 19th Judicial District Court for a rehearing.
The high court noted that when Judge Michael Caldwell made his ruling last March, he did not have the benefit of the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Act 2 of 2012 lawsuit. That opinion, while upholding a lower court ruling that vouchers cannot be funded through public education’s Minimum Foundation Program, said that Act 2 did not violate the single object provision.
“Because our (Act 2) opinion clarifies the law in this area,” the court wrote, “we conclude it would be beneficial to remand the case to the district court for reconsideration of its ruling in light of our opinion, after appropriate briefing and argument by the parties.”
After conferring with counsel, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said that he believes Judge Caldwell made the correct ruling, and that the LFT will be prepared to argue the case again when it is scheduled.
“This ruling will allow Judge Caldwell to fully consider all of the information that is available and issue an accurate opinion,” Monaghan said.
The ruling emphasizes the importance of legislative action to quell the confusion that Act 1 has caused for professional educators, Monaghan said.
“Right now there is a bill pending that would slow down implementation of Act 1 until teachers have a clear idea of what they are supposed to do,” Monaghan said. “The rules must be clear and training must be complete before the consequences of this act are imposed.”
Monaghan said that House Bill 160, which was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives, was blocked by four members of the Senate Education Committee. The bill would suspend consequences of Act 1 for a year. It has been amended onto another bill and still has a chance to be heard before the legislature adjourns on June 6.
So, COMPASS is still in force. But chin up, colleagues: The legislature is waking up to the problems presented by uninvestigated-yet-zealous reformer ideas.
The reason that HB 129 (amended to include the COMPASS deferment) was “quietly shelved” likely has to do with the education budget negotiations, not the least of which was the restoration of the 2.75% MFP increase for districts not only in 2013-14 but guaranteed for 2014-15. Since the proposed 2013 education budget included MFP for vouchers (now unconstitutional), the budget reverted back to the 2011 budget (you read it right– 2011– story below), which included the 2.75% MFP increase. Half of the MFP money is to go to teacher raises without regard to COMPASS ratings.
The budget negotiations included the apparent tradeoff of including the 2.75% MFP increase with half earmarked for teacher raises in exchange for funding for 8500 vouchers in 2013-14 from the general fund.
This is the first across-the-board state raise in five years.
The MFP increase resulted from some legislators having an issue with a budget that would fund vouchers– sending public money to private schhols– while ignoring funding increases to public schools.
As a result of 2012-13 education budget foolishness (pushing the education budget through without the required majority of 53 votes in the House), the La. Supreme Court Ruling on Act 2 declared the 2012-13 MFP formula was not legally approved. To remedy this in the future, HCR 14 was passed:
[HCR 14] provides that legislative approval of the minimum foundation program (MFP) formula adopted by BESE shall be by means of passage of concurrent resolution adopted upon a favorable vote of at least a majority of the elected members of each house.
Specifies that the concurrent resolution contain the verbatim MFP formula adopted by BESE and requires such resolution to be introduced by no later than 6 p.m. of the 23rd calendar day of regular session in an even-numbered year and no later than 6 p.m. of the 10th calendar day of a regular session in an odd-numbered year. [Emphasis added.]
House Speaker and Avid Jindal Admirer Chuck Kleckley is responsible for the failure of the 2012 MFP to be legally adopted. The La. Supreme Court agreed with LFT legal counsel, who maintained
The provision in the Louisiana Constitution that states that matters “intended to have the force and effect of law” must be considered in the legislature prior to a fixed deadline. We contend that because the legislature missed the deadline, the law has no force and effect.
The provision in the Constitution that states that matters “intended to have the effect of law” must receive a majority vote of the elected members of the House (which would be 53 votes). The MFP Resolution received 53 votes. Thus, it never passed.
With HCR 14, there will be no more shady voting and saying that majority vote doesn’t apply. No more passing the wrong Word file to the legislature. No more complicating the process by leaving the legislature to fall back on a two-year-old budget (2011-12) due to an illegally adopted MFP from a previous year (2012-13) because the current MFP (2013-14) also includes unconstitutional elements.
Such a waste of resources cleaning up the mess of arrogant, overpaid incompetence.
The House is more concerned about White’s/BESE’s capriciousness and incompetence than is the Senate Education Committee. HB 466, which would have required White/BESE to submit school performance issues before the legislature for approval PLUS prevent White’s goofy idea of two school performance scores for next year PLUS prevent yet another exam change (to ACT), was overwhelmingly supported in the House but nixed by the Senate Education Committee. White has finally admitted inflation in school performance scores but immediately excuses himself by saying he has been trying to correct the problem. I know better from my own interactions with him.
So, on the downside: John White gets to continue to play with school letter grades.
On the upside: He is under increased pressure due to the publicity about letter grade inflation. And legislators are watching him with sharper eyes in 2013 than they were in 2012.
A beautiful gain this session involves the crippling of Course Choice. As part of the Act 2 La. Supreme Court ruling, Course Choice cannot be funded using MFP. To keep their pet program alive, Jindal and White have chosen as their solution to limit Course Choice to a pilot program and cap the number of students at $250 per provider per million of funding that LDOE can scrape together. Jindal and White did not try to include Course Choice requests in the budget submitted to the legislature. Jindal decided to only broach the subject of voucher funding as a general budget request and not add Course Choice to the mix.
Ever the optimist, White tried hard to frame this undesired forced hand into a positive; as nola.com reports:
White said he wasn’t happy about downsizing the program but found it beneficial to have a year “getting our toe in the water.”
In order to conduct a pilot White must first have illegal, full funding yanked out of reach. That’s right up there with, “I’m only sorry because I was caught.”
Of course, both Jindal and White expected to draw unlimited funds for both vouchers and Course Choice from the MFP. Sadly (for them, not for public education), they are not allowed to do so.
So, having to secure funding outside of MFP has left Course Choice substantially less able to perpetrate unregulated fraud on community public schools.
RSD and “Opting Out”
Another promising bill that passed is HB 115, the “reverse parent trigger, which allows parents of RSD school students to petition to have those schools returned to their respective districts if such schools earned a D or F from the state for five consecutive years. The powerful tacit admission in passing HB 115 is that RSD is not the Miracle it pretends to be.
Go ahead and reread that last sentence.
I wonder how John Merrow will digest this news. He is promoting RSD as a “rebirth.” Here is his own comment:
December 21, 2012
Are Charters the Reason New Orleans’ Schools Are Succeeding?
John Merrow, GOOD
“This is a documentary for anyone interested in children or our nation’s future, because other districts could emulate New Orleans, not simply by adopting charter schools but by committing to a set of familiar virtues: high standards, integrity, hard work, time, resources and more.”
I have emailed him my posts on RSD and even used my work as an annotation to his “Rebirth” promotion.
Perhaps he could call the reverse parent trigger “afterbirth.”
My last bit of news concerns SB 130. This bill died. And it needed to. The official title of the bill was Creates the Early Childhood Care and Education Network and the Tiered Kindergarten Readiness Improvement System. The shorthand name for SB 130 was “Common Core for Babies.” Not kidding. Here is an excerpt from the bill:
Not later than the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, the state board shall establish and implement the Tiered Kindergarten Readiness Improvement System to establish common standards of kindergarten readiness, assess the quality of early child care and education programs serving children from birth to age five, provide information to parents and the public regarding the quality of early child care and education programs, services, and classes, and provide resources to support needed improvements in the provision of early child care and education programs. [Emphasis added.]
I hope this bill was nixed because enough legislators realized that children require play for healthy development.
My goal here was to update my readers regarding pertinent decisions associated with Louisiana’s newly-ended legislative session. I find the results promising. And as my friend Vicky has noted on FB, the work is not done. We need to continue to contact legislators as they watch the results of their 2013-14 decisions come to pass. We need to help them become increasingly wise to the foolishness that would call itself “reform.” And we need to thank those who stood up for traditional public education.
May their numbers increase daily.