Friday, June 7, 2013

Legislative Session Earns a D-

The new state budget approved in the last hours of the legislative session, includes a small, apparently permanent pay raise for public school teachers and a significant expansion of the school voucher program.

The salary supplement originally proposed by the Senate would have been a one time salary supplement and would have added additional burdens on local school systems to fund related costs such as retirement contributions without adequate state funding. The compromise budget includes a promise by Jindal that he intends to ask BESE to make the MFP increase and the pay supplement permanent. The salary increase should average approximately $580 per teacher.  I am concerned that we can still expect Jindal and White to try to convince school boards to exclude some teachers from the raise as explained in my previous post.

The voucher program which this blog and many others have criticized for having little accountability and sloppy implementation will double. In my opinion this program should have been killed or at least frozen in size. It is a huge waste of our tax dollars and the opposite of school reform. The standards for voucher providers have been minimal.  Students have been allowed to sign up to attend schools that have inadequate facilities and often substandard curricula. In addition, these voucher schools are exempt from the teacher evaluation program and from the implementation of the common core curriculum. Some are even exempt from scrutiny of their state testing results. How can the State justify having strict standards for public schools and almost no standards for private voucher schools?

A major criticism of the voucher program is that it creates an increasing drain on the state's budget and a growing constituency for vouchers even if the voucher programs are shown to be inferior to public schools. So far the minimal data available on vouchers demonstrate very poor performance. How can Jindal and the legislature justify doubling the program despite no evidence of effectiveness?

Finally, Jindal and LABI succeeded in stopping all efforts to slow down the highly inaccurate teacher evaluation system, the conversion to the untested common core standards, and the changes in the implementation of a new school grading system. I don't think that a $580 raise for teachers is going to make them feel any better about having to endure the unnecessary trauma and damage caused by these poorly implemented plans. The best grade I can give this legislative session is a D-.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Help Stop Vouchers and Course Choice


Jindal and White want to maintain control of the proposed bonus for teachers because there is a provision in the Act 54 evaluation plan that allows them to deny pay increases to teachers who are rated "ineffective" by the VAM or by their evaluators. The problem with using the VAM for this is that 76% of teachers who are rated ineffective by VAM may have been incorrectly classified as such. It is wrong to use such an inaccurate system to deny salary bonuses or raises.

Now that the legislature is winding down, most of the remaining decisions will be in establishing budget priorities. Governor Jindal has been successful so far in expanding the funding for a very poorly designed and executed voucher system. The final budget will be negotiated in the next few days to find a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the budget.

The Senate approved budget includes funding for an expanded voucher program even though there is not one shred of evidence that it improves the education of any students. At the same time the Senate approved a one time bribe (bonus) to public school teachers to try to keep them happy while the destruction of public education continues. I don't think that many true professional educators will swallow this hook!

Even though our DOE is doing its best to suppress data related to student performance in the voucher schools, indications are that most voucher students are receiving a substandard education. Take a look at the results of the voucher school described here. None of the schools supplying students to this poor excuse for a school have ever done this poorly! Vouchers are definitely not a "miracle" solution. Our taxpayers are being scammed by many greedy profiteers who really have no interest in truly educating students. Even though the course choice program is supposed to be converted into a pilot program with money produced by greatly reducing the professional functions of our DOE and BESE, White intends for it to continue to grow like a cancer in future years. Have you noticed that now that the claims of better schooling for children supposedly escaping from "failing schools" are being shown to be empty promises, the strategy is switching to the use of highly suspect parent surveys showing 93% satisfaction with the vouchers.

We as professional educators, school board members, and parents who support a strong public school system, know that our public schools are the best hope for the students that are struggling as well as our high performing students. Our public education system in Louisiana has made great strides in the past few years for all our students even though the attacks on public schools have been relentless. We must fight to keep up the morale of our teachers as we also fight to counteract these destructive forces.

Please send emails and make phone calls now to the district offices of both senators and representatives to ask that they either cut out or at least freeze the funding to vouchers and stop the course choice program until it can be evaluated by an unbiased investigative team not affiliated with the DOE. We need a true unbiased evaluation of the voucher program before the next school year to see if there is any value at all in the program other than bogus promises.

Just go to the Legislative web site here and put in your address information so that you can see exactly who represents you in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Send an email to each asking that they cut out the funding for vouchers and course choice until these programs can be evaluated by an unbiased outside agency. Always identify yourself as a voter in their district. As an added effort, in case that emails are being ignored, call their legislative assistants at their local offices and dictate a message that you want relayed to the legislator. This effort often gets better results because you are dealing with a real person who usually tries to inform the legislator of the wishes of his/her constitutents.

Thank you for your efforts for public education.