This is the first in a series of reports looking at key issues in advance of the Oct. 22 election.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s public school record is a mixture of gains, setbacks and ongoing spats with the education establishment.
Jindal, who is running for re-election on the Oct. 22 primary ballot, delivered on several high-profile campaign promises from 2007.
That list includes:
• A 2010 law that will link public school teacher evaluations in part to student achievement.
• A 2010 law designed to improve student performance by allowing waivers so schools can get around what they consider onerous laws and rules.
• Expanded school choice, including nearly twice as many charter schools today as when he took office, according to the Louisiana Charter Schools Association.
The governor is also touting Louisiana’s first-ever letter grades for about 1,300 schools that were released last week, and which stem from another 2010 state law that he backed.
“Louisiana is absolutely moving in the right direction and serving as a model,” Jindal said of efforts to improve failing schools.
“But the reality is we have to move much more quickly,” Jindal said.
However, the Republican’s term also has been marked by three consecutive years of freezes in state aid to public schools, and the view that the voice of those in the classroom is rarely heard by the administration.
“We ask for engagement so that we can offer our insight on what is really going on in the field,” said Michael Faulk, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and superintendent of the Central Community School District.
Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said Jindal should have done more financially and otherwise to aid traditional public schools rather than touting charter schools and other alternatives.
“He doesn’t come across for public education,” said Haynes, whose teachers’ union has clashed for years with Jindal on policy and politics.
Yet the grades law points up the philosophical gulf between Jindal and much of the public school establishment.
Don Whittinghill, a consultant for the Louisiana School Boards Association, said assigning letter grades to public schools is part of a bid by Jindal and others to erode support for public schools.
Meanwhile, Jindal has dubbed defenders of low-performing public schools “the coalition for the status quo.
“Too many people who like the status quo try to make it all about the adults,” Jindal told reporters last week.
The teacher review law is aimed at improving student performance by toughening oversight on how educators perform.
It will take effect with the 2012-13 school year.
The law, which teacher unions opposed, will require annual job reviews, not once every three years as is currently done.
In addition, half of the evaluation will be linked to gains in student achievement, or the lack of improvement.
“This is something that will finally allow Louisiana to identify and highlight our best-performing teachers,” said Stephen Waguespack, acting chief of staff for Jindal.
The law Jindal dubbed as his “Red Tape Reduction Act” has failed to spark interest from public schools.
It was also challenged in court by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the state’s other key teachers’ union.
The LFT, which in July won round one in district court, contends the law unfairly cedes legislative authority on school laws to the state’s top school board, which can issue waivers.
At Jindal’s urging, the Legislature earlier this year approved $3.4 billion in state aid for public schools — the third freeze in a row.
The governor and others have cited years of state budget problems, including a $1.6 billion shortfall this year, for the action.
Critics said the freezes have sparked program cuts, staff layoffs and worsened ongoing problems triggered by rising health-care and retirement costs.
“When we look at the last three years, all the districts are having to do a whole lot more with a whole lot less,” said Gary Jones, who was head of the superintendents’ association in 2009.
“But we have to appreciate that Gov. Jindal could have cut us much more,” Jones said, noting reductions that higher education has had to grapple with in recent years.
Jindal said that, even with the cuts, state aid for public schools has risen 8.2 percent since he took office, including the Fiscal Year 2008 budget that he inherited, while Louisiana’s operating budget has been cut 26 percent since 2009.
In another area, the governor has been stymied in his bid to convince the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to name John White as the next state superintendent of education.
He needs at least eight of 11 BESE votes.
Jindal has taken the unusual step of endorsing five BESE candidates in the Oct. 22 primary, and donating to some contenders.
The aim is mostly to ensure the selection of White, who is superintendent of the Recovery School District.
“I don’t think you will get eight votes for a reform superintendent until after the election,” Jindal said last week.
Public school teachers landed a $1,019 per year pay raise in 2008 but salaries have been mostly static since then.
However, pay remains near the regional average, in part because other states have experienced money problems as well.
The average was $49,300 for the 2010-11 school year, according to the Governor’s Office.