The 2011 regular legislative session is shaping up as one marked by the rejection of high-profile public school bills, including some that critics say would undermine recent education gains.
With less than three weeks left before their June 23 adjournment, lawmakers have killed bills that would:
Derail plans to issue traditional letter grades to about 1,300 public schools this fall.
Strip some of the governor’s influence over the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Repeal a 2008 law that critics argue will inject religion into science classes.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are opening the week with a focus on nonschool matters, such as tentative plans for a House debate on a proposal to ban abortions in Louisiana, which is House Bill 645. The Senate Finance Committee is continuing to focus on the House-passed, roughly $25 billion state operating budget, which is House Bill 1.
Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, said his group did not expect the session to feature many high-profile debates over public school issues.
“We have done some fairly major issues over the past couple of years,” Erwin said. “You just can’t be doing that every single year.”
Last year, lawmakers approved two hotly contested public school measures, which were pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
One will link a teacher’s job status, in part, to the annual growth of student achievement.
Another allows the state to suspend school rules and laws if local school officials can show they are hindering academic gains.
Another measure, which has generated controversy after it won easy legislative approval, has paved the way for the state to issue traditional letter grades to public schools.
The grades bill was another Jindal priority.
Sen. Jonathan Perry, R-Abbeville, tried to pass a bill that would delay those grades for two years and set up a task force to recommend changes.
But it was trounced in the Senate Education Committee last week.
“Our real victories this year have been the defeat of quite a few bad bills,” said Brigitte Nieland, vice president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which opposed Perry’s measure.
BESE is set to again review the issue later this month, which means the grading system could trigger more controversy.
Meanwhile, two bills to trim the governor’s authority to name BESE members were killed in the House Education Committee.
They were House Bill 84 by state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, and House Bill 96 by state Rep. Herbert Dixon, D-Alexandria.
A proposal touted as a way to reduce bullying in public schools — House Bill 112 —failed in the House 43-54.
Meanwhile, legislation that would freeze state aid for public schools for the third consecutive year — House Concurrent Resolution 130 — was approved last week by the House Education Committee.
It next faces action in the full House. Final approval is expected.
The school aid would total $3.4 billion.
Another measure, House Bill 519, redraws boundaries for BESE’s eight elected districts to comply with the 2010 U.S. census.
It won final legislative approval and was signed by Jindal.
Public school bills awaiting final action in the last two-plus weeks of the session include:
SB67 is aimed at trimming school expulsions and suspensions for uniform and tardiness violations for students from kindergarten through fifth grade. It passed the Senate last week and awaits House action.
HB580 is designed to give local school districts more leeway in picking textbooks. It was approved last week by the House Education Committee and faces a full House vote.
HB421 would let charter schools partner with private firms. The bill passed the House last month 72-23 and is awaiting action in the Senate Education Committee.