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John White, Louisiana Superintendent of Education on Thursday, March 16, 2017.

Advocate staff photo by ZACH BRIEN

After 12 months of meetings, hearings and arguments, Louisiana's top school board is set to decide Wednesday whether to endorse a plan to revamp public schools, and when to submit it to federal officials.

The gathering is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which sets policies for more than 700,000 public school students.

At stake is a plan by state Superintendent of Education John White to change school operations, including how annual letter grades are assigned to public schools.

White and his backers, including BESE President Gary Jones, want to submit the plan to the U.S. Department of Education in April in hopes the new rules can be in place at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

"Nothing I have seen so far would cause me to think we should delay it," Jones said Tuesday.

On the other side, Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has clashed with White for years, contends the proposal "lacks vision" and needs another five months of work.

Both issues – the merits of the plan and when to submit it – are expected to spark controversy during what is expected to be a lengthy, crowded hearing.

More than three dozen district superintendents are expected at the meeting, as well as school principals and other educators.

On the eve of the hearing, both sides gathered for a three-hour meeting in the Governor's Office.

Those attending included a handful of BESE members, local superintendents, White and Donald Songy, the governor's education policy adviser.

"I walked out feeling cautiously optimistic," said Hollis Milton, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.

Milton said 61 of the state's 69 local superintendents have signed a letter asking for a delay in submitting the state's plan.

The Louisiana Association of Principals sent a similar letter to White and BESE members.

The state plan stems from a 2015 federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act. That law requires Louisiana and other states to spell out how they plan to measure student progress, how that information will be sent to parents and other taxpayers, and how federal funds are spent.

Major differences remain between White and the governor over public school letter grades, how many tests students take and how much input taxpayers have had on the proposal.

The governor said White has failed to take advantage of a chance to delay public school letter grades for two years, while new accountability rules take hold.

White says the state is already five years late in implementing tougher rules for how students academic performance is measured.

He said roadblocks have been created by the same groups seeking another delay: the Louisiana School Boards Association, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators.

Edwards said the plan fails to eliminate enough tests, and an advisory panel he named has called for big reductions in annual science exams.

White says such reductions would be a mistake, and he said high school and other tests would be trimmed under his plan.

The governor said many "stakeholders" feel shut out in the preparation of the proposal.

White said  the state Department of Education has held 136 meetings on the issue.

Like lots of public school issues, this one is split along traditional lines.

White's allies include the Louisiana Association for Business and Industry; Stand for Children;  Democrats for Education Reform/Louisiana and the Urban League of Louisiana.

Edwards' allies include the Louisiana School Boards Association, which represents school board members statewide, Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators, both teacher unions, and the Louisiana Association of Principals.

Under one scenario, the plan would be submitted next month, followed by at least a two-month delay before BESE approves any of the all-important rules to enact the changes.

White wants to change the way public school letter grades are figured.

Under current rules, annual academic growth counts for only 7 percent of school performance scores, which are the basis of the letter grades. It only applies to struggling students.

Under the new rules, annual growth in the classroom would count for 25 percent of the grade, and apply to all students.

"I like the idea of giving some credence to schools that are improving," Jones said. "Historically, we have not given very much credit for growth."

However, there are disputes around that issue too.

Some contend 25 percent is not enough.

Others, including LABI and six other groups, said Monday parents should also be shown how students are faring without growth calculated into the score.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.