Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Need to Educate Our Legislators

It is absolutely urgent that school board members, superintendents and education leaders meet with their legislators now to discuss the needs of public education. Do not underestimate the potential influence that a unified education community can have on the legislature. Remember also that the Louisiana Constitution gives the Legislature overriding authority for the operation of our public school system. That's why educators, voters and parents should seek the Legislature's help to mitigate the effects of current budget cuts and unworkable edicts coming from the State Department of Education and BESE. This link to a Baton Rouge Advocate article explains how school board members and education leaders in south Louisiana recently met with their legislators in an effort to restore sanity to state governance of public education. The big issue discussed was the need for a moratorium on unfunded mandates. Educators pointed out that the three year freeze on state MFP funding, loss of federal stimulus dollars, diversion of Edu/Jobs funding by the Governor, and increased mandated costs, could have a major impact on vital services to children. Cost mandates include increased contributions to school employee retirement systems, and new programs such as the so called "value added" teacher evaluation program. Some state mandated programs such as student remediation are expensive but may not be cost effective. A local school system may spend big bucks on summer remediation which many students do not bother to attend. Yet the new school evaluation system may label a school as a “D” or an “F” for the poor performance of students who have not taken advantage of remediation opportunities. Since school systems are no longer provided specific funding for remediation, local school systems should be allowed maximum flexibility in providing remediation and curtailing programs that are not producing results. Local school leaders know best what works and what does not work and will design better programs without State Department interference.

Superintendents' Association president, John Sartin attended the Lafayette meeting with the 10 area legislators discussed in the Advocate article, and has other meetings planned for other parts of the state. From all accounts, the power point presentation and accompanying discussion were effective in gaining support of area legislators.

Recently A coalition has been formed that includes the School Boards Association, LAE, LFT, LASE, and others to pursue a unified program for the support of public education. The group is developing a list of legislative priorities.

In addition to the proposed moratorium on unfunded mandates, I believe educators should request a moratorium on new school takeovers by the State Department of Education. Student performance data presented in this blog demonstrates that students do better under the direction of local school boards than under the direction of the Recovery District. Just review the data presented in my Feb. 19th post. Such takeovers and the loss of per pupil revenue from local systems will eventually limit the ability of local school systems to provide top quality services. In addition, every state approved (type 2) charter fragments the support for local schools and creates a growing special interest group for privatization of public education without accountability to taxpayers. It is time the public hear the truth about school takeover and charter conversions.

I have written to both my legislators asking them to approve legislation that would at least temporarily halt the takeover of schools from local school systems until it can be shown that such takeovers are in the best interests of the children. I am attending a community meeting with my senator today, (March 17) to continue making this case and to present her with data as to why the present plan is not working. I believe if all educators and parents who are informed about this issue would make a similar case to their legislators, much could be accomplished. Now is the time for all of us who care about public education to speak to our elected representatives!