A survey on key issues shows a clear split among Chas Roemer and the two candidates who hope to replace him on Louisiana’s top school board.
Questions were sent to candidates for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education by the Council for A Better Louisiana.
The 49-year-old group calls itself a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works on public issues.
Candidates questioned included District 6 race contenders Roemer and challengers Donald Songy, of Prairieville, and Beth Meyers, of Denham Springs.
The contest is one of seven on Saturday’s primary ballot, all of which feature wide philosophical splits among candidates.
Any runoff elections will be held Nov. 19.
BESE sets state policies for an estimated 668,000 public school students statewide.
BESE District 6 includes large parts of East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes as well as Livingston, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes.
The policy differences that showed up on the CABL survey include:
??Options for students who attend failing schools.
??The status of academic achievement in Louisiana.
??A 2010 state law that will link teacher evaluations in part to student achievement.
Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge, told CABL that students in low-performing schools should have the option of charter schools, tax credits, vouchers and virtual schools.
“I believe every parent and child should wake up in the morning with a choice of a quality school, and it should not be based on the thickness of their wallet,” Roemer wrote.
Songy, former Ascension Parish schools superintendent, took a different stance, noting that federal law gives students options if they are stuck in failing schools.
He told CABL that before “sweeping programs of choice” are used, the state should study the track record of those options.
Meyers said in an interview and in the CABL survey that school choice is linked to the issue of what constitutes a failing school.
Assuming school failure is the case, she said, children should be offered supplemental services or the option of transferring to another school.
Songy and Meyers also differ sharply with Roemer on the value of charter schools, which are supposed to be innovative, publicly funded classrooms overseen by independent boards.
Most charter school applications are decided by BESE and some by local school boards.
Asked by CABL if he would back or oppose charter school requests if they meet state standards, Songy said he would decide them on a case-by-case basis.
“Ideally, charter schools should be approved and overseen by local school districts, and I would encourage this,” he wrote.
Roemer, whose job is private equity investments, said he would support qualified charter school requests.
Meyers, 48, took the opposite stance.
“I will not support any new charters until there is a better oversight system for the charter schools,” she said.
The race also shows clear divisions in the candidates’ views on the status of academic achievement in Louisiana.
Roemer, 41, said school standards remain “terribly low” and allow for ineffective practices.
Meyers said it is hard to gauge academic achievement because of differences in student proficiency results on state and federal tests.
Songy, 60, told CABL that he is tired of seeing Louisiana students show up on the bottom of most lists of academic attainment.
He said the state has shown major gains in the past decade with changes launched under former Gov. Mike Foster and former state Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard.
Some schools and districts have made great strides, Songy said, and should be given room to keep improving.
“We need to reserve the more drastic ?reform’ ideas for the schools and districts that are repeatedly failing,” he wrote.
On another topic, Songy said he opposes a 2010 state law that will link annual teacher evaluations in part to yearly student academic gains.
He said that while he favors a more thorough evaluation of teachers, many details of the law are unworkable.
Roemer said he backs the evaluation law, which will take effect with the 2012-13 school year.
Meyers, who was a classroom teacher for 20 years, criticized the law, which, she said, will likely drive out some top-flight teachers.
Meyers also criticized the use of a state skills test - called LEAP - to help determine whether fourth- and eighth-graders advance.
Roemer and Songy said they back LEAP, which stands for Louisiana Educational Assessment Program.