State Superintendent of Education John White asked a key House panel Tuesday to revamp Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed operating budget and prevent Louisiana’s public school test program from being decimated.
“I know testing is not something kids love to do,” White told the House Appropriations Committee. “But it is necessary to ensure quality.”
White said exams for Common Core; ACT, an exam that measures college readiness; Advanced Placement, which allows high school students to earn college credit; and other tests are in jeopardy under the governor’s spending plan.
“I am asking you very explicitly to consider funding quality tests and not to throw our system into a state of chaos,” White said. “We need those contracts to meet our state and federal mandates.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, said restoring dollars for test agreements and other priorities of the state Department of Education would cost an additional $100 million.
“We have a lot of ying and yang to do before June 11,” Fannin joked, a reference to state budget-balancing efforts during the two-month session that begins on Monday.
Louisiana faces a $1.6 billion shortfall to maintain spending at current levels.
The nearly five-hour hearing on Tuesday took place amid continuing, often bitter, arguments over Common Core.
Efforts to repeal the standards in reading, writing and math are expected to be a key legislative issue.
White backs Common Core, while Jindal opposes the overhaul, as do some members of the House committee.
During one tense exchange, anti-Common Core state Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, challenged what he called unfair comments by White and state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer that suggested parents and other opponents are outliers and extremists.
“I am an extremist, and I am an outlier,” Pope told White, with Roemer sitting a few rows behind.
“And I could be called an extremist outlier,” Pope said, adding that the pair should be cautious about labeling anti-Common Core parents.
White said he has made no such comments and that it was the G overnor’s Office that accused him of doing so.
“There is an extreme political agenda to make teachers go back and do five years of hard work,” White said after the meeting, a reference to efforts by Jindal and others to scrap the standards and write new ones.
“That has nothing to do with parents,” White said. “That’s about politicians.”
White has previously said the governor’s budget would chop test spending by nearly 50 percent.
He also has said it would force the layoff of about 100 of the state Department of Education’s roughly 300 employees.
In a prepared statement, Jindal said every state agency was asked to trim spending to be more efficient “and we believe this was a reasonable request for the department, and the superintendent has discretion where those reductions are made.
“We believe taxpayer dollars are better spent in classrooms educating children rather than in Baton Rouge at the state department,” he said.
White was questioned at length by state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, a committee member and one of the Legislature’s anti-Common Core leaders.
Geymann repeatedly said that White seems to have changed his stance from last year, when Geymann said the superintendent adamantly opposed calls for the state to find new exams for the first round of Common Core tests given last month.
White said last year that the state had a contract to administer the tests already in place but that changes are possible for next year’s exams because the current contract expires on July 1.
He said that, at the direction of BESE, requests for proposals, called RFPs, for new test contracts were submitted to the Jindal administration on Tuesday.
White said test questions should be consistent with the Common Core standards educators have worked on for five years, be unique to Louisiana but allow the results to be compared to students in other states.
He said the exams should also allow for fewer higher school exams and permit parents to view sample tests in advance.