Gov. John Bel Edwards’ public schools package suffered major setbacks Thursday on two fronts.
An Edwards-backed bill aimed at curbing the growth of charter schools was shelved by the sponsor Thursday in a Senate committee amid heavy opposition.
In addition, the same sponsor of the governor’s bill to trim access to vouchers all but declared the measure finished.
“I am not going to move it,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings.
The two issues make up the bulk of Edwards’ public schools agenda, which he outlined last month.
Morrish, sponsor of the charter schools bill, elected to drop the measure after hours of debate because he said it lacked the needed votes to win committee approval.
He took the action even after twice scaling back the proposal in hopes of keeping the measure alive.
The original proposal — Senate Bill 170 — would ban the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from overriding local boards that reject charter school applications in A and B districts.
Morrish eventually trimmed that to a bill that only applied to A-rated districts.
Under his revised plan, BESE would have to muster eight votes, not a six-vote majority, to override charter rejections by local school boards in A districts.
“We are just setting a higher bar,” Morrish told the committee.
But the legislation sparked heavy criticism by charter school supporters.
“We do have pockets, even within highly-rated districts, where the kids are not only not mastering higher skills in reading and math. They are mostly not even reaching basic levels,” said Stephanie Desselle, who follows public school issues for the Council for a Better Louisiana.
Nine of the state’s 69 school districts carry A ratings.
Edwards has argued that it is unfair for BESE to override charter applications in well-performing school districts, which he said should be left to local officials.
Charter schools are public schools run by nongovernmental boards. About 74,000 students attend the 139 such schools statewide, mostly in New Orleans.
Vouchers are state aid for low-income students attending C, D and F schools so they can attend private schools.
Edwards wants to limit that to D and F schools, and often notes that C schools are not failing.
Morrish has legislation to do just that — Senate Bill 361 — but announced at the end of Thursday’s meeting that he will not proceed with it.
In a prepared statement Edwards said, “We support the recommendation of the bill’s author at this time. As the session progresses, we will continue to work with him and other members on a path forward.”
The same bill — it too faced major hurdles — would limit kindergarten access to vouchers to students who would otherwise attend D or F public schools.
In the lone win Thursday, a bill backed by the governor that would outlaw local charter school authorizers won approval in the Senate Education Committee.
The vote was 5-2.
The proposal, Senate Bill 260, is nearly identical to one rejected last week in the House Education Committee.
It next faces action in the full Senate.
Last week, a series of bills to put new rules on charter schools, several backed by Edwards, flopped in the Senate and House education committees.
The Senate panel last week also shelved a measure that would ban BESE from overriding local school districts rated A, B or C when charter school applications are rejected.
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