Monday, September 8, 2014

Holding Our Legislators Accountable

2014 LAE Legislative Report Card Now Available. Click Here.

There is no question that by far the most important decision makers affecting public education and the welfare of public school employees are our Louisiana state senators and representatives. The Louisiana legislature considers dozens of bills each year that impact our public education system so much that one could say that the future of public education is primarily controlled by our state legislators. In addition, the benefits of teachers and employment rights of teachers and other educators can change drastically in only one legislative session.

In only one legislative session in 2012, teachers and parents saw the introduction of vouchers and greatly expanded charter schools that siphon millions of dollars from public schools and damage the retirement system for public school teachers. Some of these expanded charter schools threaten to degrade public schools by competing for high performing students without having  the constraint public schools have of serving all students. (Look at this article today about damage to the Baker school system.) Some of the charter schools simply dump out low performers and discipline problems right back to public schools in order to raise their performance scores at the expense of public schools.

In the same 2012 session, Governor Jindal pushed through changes in teacher benefits basically destroying teacher tenure, all seniority rights, and by firmly tying teacher employment decisions to the extremely unreliable VAM system. In just a few weeks teachers lost all job protections and often found themselves potential victims of conditions over which they had no control. Oh, and at the same time, the legislature removed all education credentials necessary for college graduates to teach any subject in any charter school. Our legislators voted on every one of these extremely damaging bills. Are we holding them accountable for damaging public education and destroying educator protections and benefits?

I have pointed out in this blog many times that teachers and other public educators could take control of their own destiny by becoming much more active in expressing their opinions to their local legislators about important education bills. Educators could have more influence on legislators because each educator can influence many votes of relatives and friends in each legislative election. Educators could have tremendous influence if they would simply take the time and exert the effort to lobby their legislators each legislative session.

But many teachers admit that they know almost nothing about legislation before it happens and almost nothing about how their own legislators are voting on such bills. Well there is an easy way to remedy that. First, every educator should be a paying member of one of the two teacher unions in the state. (Yes there are only two real unions, LAE and LFT). Then when the legislative session approaches, simply go to the web sites updated each day by both groups and get informed about the bills that affect education. Next, contact the two legislators that represent each of us (our state senator and state representative) to tell them how we want them to vote. At the end of each legislative session both teacher unions issue a report card (here is the LAE report card) evaluating how each legislator voted on important education issues. Educators can then use this information to either thank their legislators or turn on the heat for the next session, and for making decisions on the next election.

It is quite simple. If public education is to survive this time of extreme crisis, and if professional educators expect to be treated as professionals in the future, every one of us must get involved in the legislative process. Sure you can get the information for free from this blog and from the two union web sites, but isn't it important for each of us to pay our fair share of the cost of representing public education with professional lobbyists and often to pay for lawsuits to fight bad legislation? Big wins recently by the use of expensive lawsuits by the two teacher unions have had a major impact in correcting some of the worst legislation passed by governor Jindal.

This year the LAE legislative report card graded our legislators using their votes on issues like teacher retirement age, revisions of the teacher evaluation system, authorizing of new charter schools, adoption of a new teacher due process system negotiated by the LAE and LFT, exemption of teachers from VAM in cases of excessive student absences and many others.

I am an LAE member and I like to use the LAE legislative report card to evaluate my legislators because I find this legislative report card to be extremely comprehensive and sensitive to the nuances of legislative maneuvering. The report card is even color coded to help us to identify our best friends in the legislature as well as the dangerous enemies of public education. Please find the time to get informed, then get active in the legislative process. It's your democratic right and responsibility!

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