Advocates of major changes in public schools, including Common Core, swept all six races decided Saturday night for Louisiana’s top school board.
The winners included three incumbents on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education — all longtime backers of tougher school benchmarks — and three newcomers generally aligned with the push to overhaul public schools.
“These are people who have been very explicit in their support for accountability, choice, standards, the Recovery School District and the broader reform agenda,” said former BESE member Leslie Jacobs, one of the architects of the state’s push to overhaul public schools.
The losers, backed by teachers unions, included BESE incumbents Lottie Beebe, of Breaux Bridge, and Carolyn Hill, of Baton Rouge, who were the panel’s top critics of Common Core and state Superintendent of Education John White.
What it all means is that self-styled school reformers could hold their majority on BESE, or even widen it, depending on the outcome of two runoffs on Nov. 21 and the next governor’s three picks for the panel.
It is also a boost for White, who has made no secret of his hopes to remain as superintendent after nearly four years of often bitter education fights, including a high-profile clash with Gov. Bobby Jindal over Common Core.
“Superintendent White has a lot more job security with these election results,” Joshua Stockley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, said Sunday.
The outcomes also could pave the way for another split between BESE and the next governor because both runoff contenders — Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards — are Common Core critics.
BESE, which sets policies for about 720,000 public school students statewide, has 11 members.
This year’s races are seen as sort of a referendum on whether backers of vouchers, public school letter grades and the like continue to dominate or if traditional public school supporters gain the upper hand.
The contests settled Saturday pitted business-backed candidates — notably the free-spending Louisiana Association of Business and Industry — against those supported by teachers unions — the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators.
In each case, the LABI-backed contender won, averaging 61 percent of the vote.
Holly Boffy, who lives in Lafayette, was among the chief targets of anti-Common Core forces, including a group called Flip BESE. But Boffy defeated challenger Mike Kreamer, also of Lafayette, 53 percent to 47 percent in BESE District 7, which includes some of the most fervent opponents of the revamped standards in reading, writing and math.
In District 1, BESE Vice President Jim Garvey, who lives in Metairie and has long been aligned with the push for public school letter grades, routed challenger Lee Price Barrios, a retired schoolteacher and longtime critic of recent school changes.
In District 2, incumbent Kira Orange Jones, who lives in New Orleans and is an ally of White, easily overcame a challenge by Kara Washington, who lives in Ama and was a critic of Common Core tests.
In District 3, Beebe, who cast the lone vote against White’s selection in 2012, was handily defeated by challenger Sandy Holloway, an educator who lives in Thibodaux. Beebe did not return a call for comment Sunday.
Hill, the District 8 BESE member who often was aligned with Beebe in blasting Common Core and other school overhauls, lost to Jada Lewis, an assistant dean at the LSU College of Engineering.
Another LABI-backed contender, former Superintendent Gary Jones, easily defeated Johnny Fatheree in an open District 5 race in northeast Louisiana.
Advocates of continuing the push for sweeping changes in public schools hailed the results.
“Voters sent a clear message that Louisiana lawmakers and BESE members must continue to advance and support innovative educational choice options,” said former state Sen. Ann Duplessis, president of the Louisiana Federation of Children.
Eva Kemp, state director of Democrats for Education Reform, noted that the results were positive beyond the two contenders her group worked for — Kira Orange Jones and Lewis.
“I think it was a great night across the board,” Kemp said.
Others said that, with two races still to be decided and three BESE members named by the next governor, it is too soon to draw any sweeping conclusions.
“Obviously, the governor’s race will have a huge bearing on what education policy looks like in Louisiana,” said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.
One of those races — District 6 — featured Common Core opponent Kathy Edmonston grabbing 47 percent of the vote in a five-person contest to succeed BESE President Chas Roemer.
Edmonston faces Baton Rouge businessman Jason Engen in the Nov. 21 runoff in another LABI versus teachers unions match.
In District 4 in northwest Louisiana, Common Core critic Mary Harris, who is filling an unexpired term on BESE, led a three-person race with 43 percent of the vote.
State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, a top critic of Common Core, declined comment Sunday morning on Saturday’s BESE results.
A spokeswoman for Edwards said the Democrat could comment on the meaning of the BESE races during his 3:30 p.m. news conference.
A spokesman for Vitter did not respond to a request for comment.
Stockley said the results point up the influence of money in BESE contests.
Garvey, Boffy, Kira Orange Jones, Holloway, Gary Jones and Lewis all enjoyed huge fundraising leads, in part because of their support from LABI.
A super PAC overseen by Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby had more than $1 million in the bank earlier this month and backed Garvey, Boffy and others who won on Saturday.
“I think the statement sent to the education community is, we are still trying to improve our education system,” Grigsby said Sunday.
“We don’t have it right yet, but we are headed in the right direction,” he said. “The state sees that we have got to improve education.”