La. Education Legislation: Final Update of 2015
On May 29, 2015, I wrote a post that was a Louisiana legislative update.
During the Louisiana legislative session, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) issues a weekly legislative digest of education-related legislation. (Archived digests can be found here.)
In this post, I would like to offer some highlights from the June 12, 2015, LFT Digest, the final one for the session. I also add some other bill info at the end of this post.
I added links for each of the bills mentioned. The links include comprehensive information on each bill. (Note that this search engine allows one to track any bill nationwide: LegiScan Search Engine.)
Schools Get Last-minute $36 Million Bump
Just as he did two years ago, Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) found a way to increase funding for schools even after public education’s Minimum Foundation Program formula had been rejected.
As the session drew to a close, the Senate finally approved Rep. Edwards’ HCR 231, which calls for an additional 1.375%, or $36 million, to be included in the budget for public education. It had been held up while waiting for the House to take a crucial vote on the controversial SAVE plan. (See more on SAVE plan below.)
Once the House approved the scheme that makes Gov. Bobby Jindal’s final budget appear to be revenue-neutral, the Senate voted unanimously to okay the resolution. Because the legislature is allowed to either accept or reject the MFP, but not change it, Rep. Edwards’ resolution calls for the additional money to be appropriated outside of the funding formula. However, it asks Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to recognize the additional funding and include it in the MFP to be adopted for the 2016-17 school year.
The additional funding increases the base student allocation from $3,961 to $4,051, and ensures that raises granted to classroom teachers last year will be continued this year.
Lawmakers Okay COLA; Jindal May Veto
Governor Bobby Jindal may poke state retirees in the eye one more time before following his presidential aspirations to Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond. Capitol insiders say there is a strong possibility he will veto a hard-won 1.5% cost of living adjustment for state retirees, even though the $30 average increase won’t even cover an increase in health insurance premiums.
Even without the threatened veto, HB 42 by Rep. Sam Jones (D-Franklin) took a rocky road to passage. There is enough money in the retirement systems’ experience accounts – money earned on investments – to pay for the COLA, but many lawmakers believed that system debt was a more important priority.
The bill was first saved from defeat by an amendment that delayed the COLA until next year. In the waning moments of the session, however, Rep. Jack Montoucet (D-Crowley) went to bat for retirees. He refused to allow passage of his own $100 million bill aimed at balancing the budget unless the House of Representatives reversed itself and made the COLA available this year.
SAVE Act Rescues Louisiana’s $24 Billion Budget
After acrimonious debate, the House of Representatives approved a scheme variously described as a scam, sham, gimmick, fraud and fiction so that Gov. Bobby Jindal could claim that the budget is a revenue-neutral balance of tax increases and credits.
The 59-44 vote capped a session in which all other issues took a distant second place to the state’s budget crisis. In April, the session convened with lawmakers facing a $1.6 billion shortfall. The so-called SAVE act allowed lawmakers to adopt a $24 billion budget without violating a pledge that Gov. Jindal made to follow to Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington, D.C. special interest group. That pledge is widely seen as a key to the governor’s plan to run for president.
Even its supports in the House said the SAVE act is a bad idea. Rep. Chris Broadwater (R-Hammond), the bill’s floor leader, said “I am going to be embarrassed when I go back home” and try to explain his vote to constituents. “I won’t try to candy coat it,” Broadwater said, adding that he would not have drafted the bill himself and that he believes it is bad policy. But without the plan, Broadwater said, Gov. Jindal would surely veto the budget, leaving higher education open to cuts totaling well over $300 million.
Leading the opposition to the bill, Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) called it “pure fiction, a contrived gimmick. “The only real thing about it is the bad precedent it sets,” Rep. Edwards said. Future legislatures could adopt massive tax increases masked by similar strategies, according to the Amite Democrat. Rep. Edwards urged colleagues to defy the governor, reject the bill and then override a promised gubernatorial veto.
But Rep. Broadwater cautioned the House that, although there were enough votes in the House to override a veto, the Senate probably could not muster the required two-thirds majority. The SAVE act had already been rejected by the House, but Senators amended its language onto a number of other bills.
The version that reached the House floor was in SB 93 by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton). The sole purpose of the SAVE act is to make it appear that some $400 million in various tax increases were offset by tax credits. It imposes a fee on college students that is offset by a matching tax credit. Students will not actually pay the fee or collect the credit. Instead, money from the other tax increases will be funneled to higher education.
Common Core Compromise Bills All Adopted
A trio of bills intended to defang the controversy raging over Common Core State Standards easily passed both houses of the Legislature and are awaiting the signature of Gov. Bobby Jindal. The governor, who originally supported Common Core, has said he will sign the bills because they comport with his newfound opposition to the concept.
HB 373 by Rep. Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles) sets a legislative framework for curriculum changes already being studied by a commission of the Board of elementary and Secondary Education.
- Requires BESE to begin reviewing and developing state content standards in English and math by July 1.
- Requires BESE to hold at least one meeting for stands review in each congressional district.
- Requires BESE to provide the minutes of each meeting to members of the legislature not later than 30 days after the meeting.
- Requires BESE to post the proposed new standards by February 21, 2016 and to adopt the standards by March 4, 2016.
- Requires BESE to promulgate the standards in accordance with the state Administrative Procedures Act.
- Requires the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate to each appoint a member to serve as liaison to the BESE process.
- Provides that if the governor suspends or vetoes the new rules, BESE must make revisions and act without delay to promulgate rules for the revised standards.
HB 542 by Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington) says that no more than 49.9 percent of questions on next year’s state mandated standardized tests can come from the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) blueprint. It also prohibits the state from contracting with PARCC to provide the tests.
Note: One provision that I particularly appreciate in HB 542 is that any subcontracts entered into by the principal testing contractor must be submitted to the division of administration. This prevents the kind of shady arrangement that occurred in 2014-15 with La. “PARCC” tests in which the arrangement between official PARCC contractor, Pearson, and the company delivering the La. “PARCC,” Data Recognition Corp, was kept from the public.
SB 42 by Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) guarantees that any changes to the state curriculum adhere to the Administrative Procedures Act, a legal process that ensures transparency and public input. Changes would then have to be vetted by the joint House and Senate Education Committees and submitted to the governor for an up-or-down vote. Portions of the bill mirror parts of HB 373.
Some info on bills noted in my May 29, 2015, post:
Non-cognitive Testing Bill Passes
A bill that would bill that prohibit standardized testing of students’ non-cognitive skills passed both House and Senate.
HB 245 by Rep. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) includes the following language:
The content standards and assessments adopted by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and implemented by the state Department of Education pursuant to the provisions of this Section shall reflect direct application to subject matter proficiency of students and shall not include content or questions to measure noncognitive, emotional, physical, or psychological characteristics, attributes, or skills of students.
State Contracts Bill
For the fourth year in a row, Rep. Dee Richard (No Party- Thibodaux) and Treasurer John Kennedy are attempting to reduce the number of consulting service contracts entered into by the state.
A version of the bill was actually passed by the Legislature last year, but was vetoed by Gov. Bobby Jindal. Once again, the legislature has passed such a bill, and once again, it heads for Jindal’s desk.
According to Rep. Richard’s HB 30, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee would review any consulting contract valued at $40,000 or more. This year’s version of the bill differs in that money not approved for consulting contracts would help fund higher education.
SB 249 by Sen. Rick Ward (R-Port Allen), which establishes a new voucher scheme called the School Choice Loan Fund, did not make it past the House Appropriations Committee this year.
“Failing School Foster Care”
SB 129 (Nevers) A bill that allows school districts to take over failing schools of other districts passed both House and Senate.
Charter School Enrollment
SB 267 (Claitor) principally focuses on ensuring that charter schools serve a more balanced proportion of the state’s exceptional students. The bill passed both House and Senate.
Higher-Ed GRAD Act Exception
That’s enough for now. However, for those desiring more info, any of the bills from any state may be tracked using this LegiScan Search Engine.