Friday, April 11, 2014

Last Chance for Accountability for Charters and Vouchers

At its next meeting on April 16, the House Education Committee will resume its consideration of bills that would curtail abuses of the voucher and charter school programs. It is very important that supporters of our public schools ask committee members to vote "yes" for several of these bills if we are to insure the continued viability of our public school systems. Make no mistake about it. Our public schools are threatened by the continued abuses of charters and vouchers.

There is no evidence whatsoever that the addition of charter schools and voucher schools have improved the opportunities for our students in Louisiana. The original reasons given by Governor Jindal for the expansion of charters and vouchers by Act 2 of 2012 is that parents needed a way to escape "failing" public schools. However it has become clear that initial screening and monitoring of new voucher schools by the LDOE has been inadequate, allowing fly-by night-voucher schools to receive tax dollars with little accountability. The testing data and legislative audits have shown that performance and accountability of these schools is sub standard. Also, new predatory, for-profit charters are being given financial advantages to attract students away from many successful public schools. There are no restrictions on how much of our tax dollars can be diverted from student education for slick ads and for the enrichment of developers.

HB 89 by Miller would restrict funding to charter schools that are not paying their fair share of  unfunded liability for retirement costs that are mandated by the legislature to all other public schools. (See the explanation of this bill on the post below. One of the rich charter developers from Florida has a 40 foot yacht with a name ("Fishin' 4 Schools") that flaunts his exploitation of our tax dollars.

HB 184 by Havard would keep charter school owners from profiting from buildings purchased with tax dollars. This is happening sometimes even after such schools fold.

HB 701,702, and 703 by Edwards would prevent the approval of vouchers and charters by BESE in school systems that are rated "C" or above. These are not "failing" school systems.  See the explanation below.

HB 836 by Harrison requires accountability for voucher schools. (see below)

All of the above bills should be passed if we really believe in accountability. Last Wednesday, the charter and voucher proponents killed certification requirements for teachers in charters and vouchers and killed a bill by Pearson seeking to close the kindergarten loophole for charters. If this trend continues, charter and voucher schools will dominate our educational system at the expense of our public schools.

Please help me correct a misconception about some of our public schools. The supporters of school privatization have succeeded in creating a false image of "failing public schools".  I hear it repeated over and over as justification for increased privatization. This is an image based on a flawed grading system for schools. The school grading system is based entirely on student performance, not on the quality of services provided by a school. A "D" or "F" school turns out to always be a school serving high poverty at risk students. When such schools are closed or their students are allowed to go to other schools, the data shows that on average such students do not improve their performance. One added point: Herb Bassett has analyzed the student performance data from the past school year and has found that on average, low performing sub groups actually do better in "D" or "C" schools than they do in "B" or "A" schools. Herb wants to look at more data to confirm or disprove this conclusion. But if it holds true then there is no justification for providing ways for students to "escape failing schools".

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Elected Superintendent Bill Advances

The House Education Committee made a good decision Wednesday by advancing two bills by Rep. Harrison that could return the position of State Superintendent to a statewide elected position. One of the bills, HB 125 would provide for a constitutional amendment allowing a vote of the people to make the position elective. The other bill, HB 127 would allow the legislature to make the position elective by a two thirds vote of both houses of the legislature. Both bills passed after a long debate in the Education Committee.

Harrison told the committee that he prefers HB 125 because constitutional amendment legislation cannot be vetoed by the governor. Jindal has made it clear that he does not support an elected state superintendent and his veto of HB 127 is considered likely should it be approved by the legislature.

This is Lottie Beebe's facebook comment on this bill and another bill by Rep. Smith to require charter schools to  give certified teachers preference for teaching positions. 
"Can't believe HB 124 offered by Representative Pat Smith was rejected by the House Education Committee. Representative Smith's bill that would hold Charter schools to the same standards as traditional schools --requiring certification-- was struck down. State Superintendent of Education White spoke in opposition of the bill. White's action further supports the need to elect a state superintendent of education--a bill (HB-125) that was introduced by Representative Harrison. A state superintendent of education should embrace minimum standards that are required of our traditional public school teachers. He should advocate for certified,highly qualified educators and recommend programs that incentivize teacher education programs as fewer individuals are selecting the education profession as a career. Instead, White reinforces the concept that credentials and certifications don't matter! I spoke in support of Representative Smith's HB"
Lottie Beebe

John White opposed the Smith bill to hire certified teachers in charters. White has made it clear that he favors non-certified persons like TFA types and guys like "Lefty" Lefkowith for important education positions.

Landry Does it Again

Opponents of the two bills providing for an elected superintendent included Rep. Nancy Landry of Lafayette. She said that the present system of electing most of the members of BESE who then appoint the State Superintendent is a better plan because it prevents conflict between top education leaders. Landry apparently did not see anything wrong with the fact that the Jindal dominated BESE appointed a person who did not even have the credentials to be an assistant principal in Louisiana!  In fact when discussing the need for qualifications for the superintendent, she spoke against an amendment requiring a Masters plus 30 degree and 10 years in education supervision. Landry said "How can you expect anyone who has been in education that long to be willing to make the reforms that are needed." I wonder if she would think her doctor no longer competent to use modern medicine after only 10 years of practice?

Landry went on to made a bogus case that teacher unions would have undue influence in the election of the state superintendent because they could make huge contributions to the campaign. What a huge distortion! The truth is that rich corporate donors like Michael Bloomberg from New York and rich Louisiana businessman Lane Grigsby basically bought most of the BESE seats this last election with their huge contributions. While big business donated hundreds of thousands to several races, LAE and LFT each donated at most $2,500 to a few races. Landry tried to imply that NEA affiliate, LAE had donated huge amounts by referring to national political action contributions of NEA giving the impression that those had gone to BESE candidates. Landry's grandstanding and distortion of teacher union influence reminded many of her attacks on teachers who tried to testify two years ago against the Jindal destruction of teacher rights that were included in Act 1. Landry wanted the teachers testifying against Act 1 to tell the committee about whether they had obtained leave to go to the legislature.

It is amazing that anti public education legislators like Landry are still attempting to create an image of "evil" and powerful teacher unions holding back progress in education. They create this smokescreen  as the true powers dominated by big business continue their destruction of public education and the teaching profession! As Landry made her bogus claims and lauded the wonderful progress made by the passage of Act 1 and Act 2 (both of which have been declared unconstitutional), many of us in the audience thought about the demoralization of the teaching profession created by the VAM, the COMPASS,  the CCSS, the proliferation of predatory charters and vouchers and the damage yet to be wrought to public education by PARCC. This is what Landry sees as "great progress".

It was good to see the committee approve both Harrison bills over the objections of Landry and LABI!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Important Charter & Voucher Restrictions

Several critical issues related to charter and voucher schools are scheduled to be debated at the House Education Committee this Wednesday, April 9, starting at 9:00 A.M. These bills would help us to defend public schools from predatory charter schools and from further unwarranted expansion of the voucher programs.

Please ask your State Representative who serves on the House Education committee to support the following bills. All of the following are designed to keep charter schools and voucher schools from ripping off our tax dollars and shortchanging the students they propose to educate.

  • HB 89 by Miller would reduce the funding to charter schools that are not now paying their fair share of the unfunded liability of our teacher and school employee retirement systems. Up until now, some charters who refuse to participate in the retirement systems get the full MFP funding, yet are avoiding paying the approximate 28% of payroll that the legislature is requiring all of our local school boards to pay to reduce the unfunded liability of our retirement systems. This means that as charter schools continue to proliferate, and take more and more of the MFP, our regular public school systems must shoulder a larger and larger portion of the unfunded cost of our retirement systems. This trend could eventually force a collapse of our retirement systems as has been seen in Detroit where retired teachers are no longer getting the full pension they had been promised. Such inequitable funding of charter schools also allows the “predatory” charters that are profit making enterprises to convert more of our tax dollars into profit or into higher salaries for self appointed administrators. This is a travesty! This law should have been in place before any charters ever got started.
  • HB 101 by John Bel Edwards and HB 124 by Pat Smith would require that charter schools attempt to hire certified teachers before resorting to hiring uncertificated persons to teach our students. HB 101 simply requires the same standards for teacher hiring in charters as are used in regular public schools but HB 124 specifies that in both cases (public and charters) the first priority for teaching positions must first go to certified persons before resorting to hiring uncertificated teachers. We need to maintain proper credentials if teaching is to be recognized as a true profession, plus the fact that our students deserve the most qualified teachers possible.
  •  HB 701, and HB 702, would close loopholes that are now allowing vouchers to go to students that are not attending so called “failing” or “low performing” public schools. HB 701 by John Bel Edwards would remove students attending “C” rated public schools from eligibility for vouchers and HB 702 by Edwards would close the kindergarten loophole that has allowed voucher schools to recruit any kindergarten students even those that were in high performing school attendance zones.
  • HB 703 by Edwards would prevent BESE from approving charter schools in public school districts that are rated as “C” or better. This year BESE has approved numerous “predatory” charters over the objections of local school boards that can locate in any school system and attempt to attract the best students in order to put big profits into the pockets of education entrepreneurs like Charter Schools USA CEO Hage who has a yacht called “Fishin' 4 schools”. This guy is flaunting his robbery of our tax dollars!
  • HB 836 by Harrison requires an accountability system for voucher schools that would be similar to that applied to regular public schools.
  • HB 184 by Havard would prevent charter schools owners or authorizers from keeping and profiting from school property that was purchased with taxpayer money.
  • HB 999 by Williams limits the management fee for operating charters to no more than 10% of total expenditures.

Please ask your State Representative to support all of the bills described above.
House Education Committee

Christopher Broadwater 985-543-4900
Thomas Carmody Jr. 318-862-9956
Jerome "Dee" Richard 985-447-0999
Patricia Hayes Smith 225-342-7106

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Good Legislative News for Our Students

In my opinion, the best development last week for our students was the quiet approval of HB 944 by the full House of Representatives by a vote of 94 to 0. This legislation finally provides real support for students who want and need technical and career education as part of their high school curriculum. It means that many of our graduates will soon be prepared for thousands of high income careers that do not require a four year college diploma. In fact many of the career diploma graduates will graduate with  two years of high quality career training which may include numerous dual enrollment courses and industry based certification.

HB 944 by Representative Fannin and Senator Kostelka, now puts the career diploma at a favorable status with a college prep education. Graduation with a new career diploma will not only provide students with industry based certification, but such students will be eligible to attend both community and four year colleges upon graduation. There is no limiting of the opportunities for our students. The new law also requires that no high schools will be penalized by the school grading system because of students graduating in the career areas.

Why this abrupt departure from the ten year push of college prep for all that has dominated education in Louisiana? 90 percent of our graduates in recent years were graduating with a Core 4 college prep diploma, yet only a small minority were completing college. It was time to face reality. Thousands of new jobs in Louisiana are being created by the construction of numerous new chemical plants that are benefiting from the rapid development of abundant natural gas using new "fracking" techniques. Many plastics and fertilizer manufacturing processes use natural gas as a feedstock. Natural gas can even be converted into gasoline. Auto and truck engines can be adapted to burn natural gas with much fewer emissions. Some major new facilities on the coast will liquefy natural gas for shipping to the world market for natural gas where world prices are double what they are in the continental U.S.

But natural gas related jobs are not the only new opportunities for our students. Louisiana is also benefiting from the production of huge new reserves of oil also using the new fracking techniques. The boom in production of oil is adding hundreds of jobs in high tech welding as new pipelines and shipping facilities are being added. The fear not long ago, was that some industries were considering importing welders from as far as Taiwan because Louisiana was not training our local kids in high tech welding. By the way, many girls are now breaking through some of the barriers to formerly male dominated jobs.

Many of our students will benefit from growth in other fields that result from the Louisiana economic boom such as food service, restaurants, housing, hospitality, medical services etc. etc. Many of these new jobs will appeal to both young women and young men. The exciting new development is that for the first time there will be a constant fine tuning of high demand careers because of strong cooperation between our educational system and the Louisiana Workforce Commission and business and industry. Some of the leaders in industry are proposing partnerships with local school systems for offering many free or low cost courses for high school students related to the new jobs being created.

State Superintendent John White deserves credit for changing DOE and BESE policies to greatly expand the opportunities for our students using the career diploma. What would be the alternative to this modernization of our high school curriculum? Our many non-college bound graduates could serve fast food and provide laundry services at minimum wage to the thousands of high paid out-of-state workers who would soon be imported to our state.

inBloom Appears Doomed

The gigantic cloud student data collection system funded by the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation appears to be dying because of the student privacy legislation being passed in Louisiana and several other states, but particularly because inBloom has now lost its biggest customer, the New York state K-12 system. The Schroeder legislation on student data privacy, HB 1076, formerly 946, continues to make its way through the legislative process. Parents who oppose the misuse of student data will remain vigilant. HB 1076 is scheduled for House floor debate on Monday, April 6.