Saturday, November 10, 2012

More Jindal Coersion

Governor Jindal intimidated his way to another win over the Legislature and the voters by turning over the administration of group benefits health insurance to Blue Cross Blue Shield. See the excellent post on this travesty in the Louisiana Voice blog.

All employee groups participating in OGB programs spoke against the privatization move. The groups opposing included the Retired Teachers' Association, the LAE, LFT, AFSME, and the School Boards Association. These groups remained in opposition even after the Jindal hand picked administrator for OGB sent out a glowing letter of praise for the Blue Cross contract to all participating School Boards earlier this week. This Coersion has become Jindal's trademark.

Only one school board official from Jefferson Parish testified in favor of the contract. The Jefferson Parish official thanked the Jindal Administration for the one million dollar savings the move would mean for Jefferson Parish. But other testimony before the committee pointed out that the one million savings only was possible because of the huge surplus in the OGB account caused by the excellent management by OGB. The savings in premium would have occurred without the Blue Cross takeover. Upon questioning by Rep. Pat Smith, the Jefferson official admitted that the Jindal voucher program was costing Jefferson two million dollars this year! Wonder why the Jefferson school system would thank Jindal for a net loss of one million?

Rep. Katrina Jackson pointed out that the actuaries are already predicting a huge hundred million dollar increase in payout of benefits for the new plan which will more than wipe out any temporary savings. Get ready for a big premium increase!

The following are the strong legislators who still voted "no" on the privatization plan:
Senate House
Senator Sherri Smith Buffington page1image4404Rep. James Armes
Senator Fred Mills, Senator Edwin Murray
Rep. Jared Brossett
Rep. Roy Burrell
Rep. Katrina Jackson, Rep. Edward “Ted” James, Rep. Walt Leger

Rep. Helena Moreno
Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, Rep. Ledricka Thierry

Please send an email "thank you" to those legislators for standing up to Jindal and for the employees and voters!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Jindal Defeat a Lesson for Educators

Breaking News! Another meeting of the joint committee of the House Appropriations and the Senate Finance Committees has been scheduled for 8:30 am, this Friday, November 9. At least two dissenting members of the Appropriations committee have been replaced by Jindal's puppet House Speaker. (Click here for the Monroe NewsStar article) The intent is to ram through the privatization of the Office of Group Benefits just as was done to public education last Spring. I am urging all members of the  Group Benefits plan to call or email members of those committees and ask that they oppose privatization again. This move by Jindal is his most anti-democratic move yet!

Educators (teachers, principals, and school board members) have the power to reverse or correct most of the Jindal damage to public education and the teaching profession! That's the lesson we can take from the decisive defeat suffered by Governor Jindal last Thursday on his effort to privatize the Group Benefits insurance program. The political lesson to be learned and utilized by educators is that when a large group of voters is adversely affected by a government action and they choose to put maximum pressure on their representatives in government, they win!

The action last week was supposed to be a simple rubber stamping by hand picked legislative committee members of the Governor's decision to turn over our successful, cost effective group benefits program to the Governor's friends at Blue Cross. But this time the educators, state workers and particularly the retired educators and retired state workers decided they had had enough of Jindal's bullying. The word spread quickly that the joint committee composed of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees had the power to stop the Governor's latest power play. The Retired Teacher's Association and other interested groups sent out an urgent message to their members listing the members of these legislative committees and their contact information (phone numbers and email addresses). The email urged members to simply tell their legislators on those committees how they felt about this move. One of my readers sent me the LRTA email, and I forwarded it to my Defenders of Public Education data base with the same call to action. The result was overwhelming! Within a matter of hours the Governor's control of the House Appropriations Committee was totally lost. Legislators reported receiving hundreds of phone calls and emails opposing the privatization with not a single constituent in support of the Governor's plan even though his “experts” had predicted that the privatization would save money and result in better service.

The result was a chaotic joint committee meeting with our hero, Rep. Katrina Jackson running parliamentary procedure circles around the Governor's cronies to force a “no” vote on the proposal. By the time the dust settled the vote was going to be firmly 16 against and only 7 in favor of the Governor's privatization plan. The Governor's Commissioner of Administration was allowed to withdraw the plan from the committees' agenda before a final vote could be taken. Senate Finance Committee members were greatly relieved to avoid voting on this losing proposition. This is what happens when the voters are willing to speak forcefully to their elected representatives. Of course the Jindal administration moved quickly to punish two key legislators by removing them from the Appropriations committee. I urge my readers to send an email to Rep Joe Harrison, Rep. Cameron Henry, and especially Rep. Katrina Jackson thanking them for their courage. This fight is not over, but I predict that even if the governor eventually wins this battle by sheer intimidation he will eventually lose the war and his ability to control the legislature.

There is no question in my mind that the education community can do the same thing to dismantle the worst parts of the Governor's ALEC dictated education “deform” blueprint. That's because the average voters never really cared about this plan for vouchers, school takeovers, teacher bashing, VAM evaluations, the stripping of teacher qualifications and dignity, and all the forms of privatization promoted in the Governor's plan. The dozens of legislators whose allegiance was bought by the big money from the privatization and testing interests have realized by now that the “emperor has no clothes”. The educators who work in the trenches and the school board members who have been humiliated and blamed for imaginary failings of our schools who really care about public education now have an opportunity to fight back and win.

The only thing that makes me just a little skeptical is that I wonder how many teachers and maybe even school leaders have never worked up the courage to sit down and talk face to face with their legislator about these critical matters. If many educators have only sent one or two emails and then given up and concluded that they have no power against the forces of the Governor and John White, then I really fear that we are doomed. But those educators were wrong! It is not too late. Why should we let these guys who voted to destroy public education, and who probably know they voted wrong, off the hook? Look. . . both of my legislators were new in their office this year and voted wrong on the education reforms, because they were overwhelmed by the Governor's initial push. But now educators are meeting with them regularly and calling their offices when an important education issue comes up. We are educating them about what is really important in education. Even more importantly they also know that we won't forget their support or lack of support at election time. You and your fellow educators can do the same. If you really care about public education, here is what you need to do now!
  1. Make a short list of the gut issues you care most about in education that you want to communicate to your legislators about and plan to meet with them to discuss those issues. You can see my personal list of important education issues at the bottom of this post.
  2. Use social media and emails to get educators to follow our louisianaeducator blog so all educators can be informed and prepared to deal with attacks on educators and public schools.
  3. Form a committee of educators in your area or school who will meet regularly with local legislators and proceed to educate them about the need to reverse the destructive Jindal reforms. Start small and grow your educator activist group with time and effort. Have faculty meetings to plan strategy and send emails and make phone calls to legislators. Get to know the legislator's legislative aide at his/her home office and get the aide to relay your messages to your legislator.
  4. Join your professional organization/union or administrator group and get active at the local and state levels.
  5. Join our Defenders of Public Education data base today! It is free and you remain in total control of your communications with your legislators. I pledge to work directly with the Louisiana Coalition for Public Education to keep you informed and communicating effectively with your legislators. To join, all you have to do is send me an email at Tell me you want to be part of the “Defenders” data base and either give me the name or district numbers of your state representative and state senator or give me your home address so I can look it up and place you in the correct contact group. Then when an important vote comes up you will get an email about contacting your legislator before the vote happens. We can and will make a difference!
Here is my list of key reform issues that should be reversed if we are to save public education in Louisiana:
  • Stop the vouchers now. Most of the vouchers violate the concept of separation of church and state and needlessly drain critical MFP dollars from our school board budgets. Greedy creationist preachers and rip off artists are making Louisiana education a laughing stock.
  • Freeze the approval of new charter schools and close down the many destructive charters that are paying huge salaries to their administrators without taxpayer supervision and who use any means possible to fake success and continue to raid our public school funds.
  • Stop the out-of-state for-profit virtual schools. They are education failures everywhere in this country, but they are making a few people very rich using taxpayer money.
  • Stop the Course Choice program before it starts. It is impossible to have real accountability in this program. It will rob our MFP and it will do a poor job of educating students.
  • Stop the VAM and COMPASS now. This system is not accurate and will demoralize and divide the teaching profession in Louisiana. It will turn many professional educators into mindless “test teachers” and cheaters.
  • Stop using standardized testing to rate our schools and teachers. This ill advised system narrows our curriculum that turns professional educators into “test teachers”.
  • Stop the failed takeover of schools by the incompetent administrators of the RSD. Instead put extra resources, and provide incentives for our strongest principals to serve in our high poverty schools and for our most effective teachers to teach in our most challenging schools. Work with the community to encourage positive parental involvement in our poorest neighborhoods.
Here is my best advice: Stop complaining and use your skills as an educator and an organizer to win back control of our public schools. This is a fight we must win for our profession and our students!