As divorce lawyers might ask, are there irreconcilable differences between education reformers and Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards?
The governor-elect doesn’t think so, and he made his case before the Council for A Better Louisiana’s annual meeting, where he was addressing an organization that he often opposed during eight years on the House Education Committee.
Edwards’ message of “common ground” was well-received, and he’s exactly correct that nostrums of the left or right can lead to policies that can’t be sustained over the long term. Given the extraordinary political circumstances of Edwards’ own rise — many thought it was not possible for a Democrat to win the governorship this year — there’s a strong lesson that policy ought to be built to stand against changes in the political tides.
Yet Edwards also made it clear what his priorities would be, and they included areas of agreement with CABL, such as expansion of Medicaid insurance coverage for the working poor. He’s championed ethics and transparency in government, also pushed by CABL. Edwards and the group are likely to be on the same page on critical fiscal reforms.
Some of Edwards’ suggestions will not be as perfectly matched with CABL’s general — although not exactly congruent — alliance with the education policies pushed by outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The governor-elect was never happy with the teacher evaluation laws under Jindal. He told CABL that Louisiana probably isn’t getting it right, basing 50 percent of the teacher evaluation on student test scores. We’re the only state with that percentage, he said.
He also reiterated that he’s not opposed in principle to charter schools but wants to see them perform. We do, too, and CABL is probably with him on that. We’d like to see more traditional schools, run by elected parish or city boards, adopt some of the ideas that charter schools employ, including longer school days and innovative teaching methods.
At the same time, a well-funded civic initiative to bring nationally recognized charter schools to impoverished north Baton Rouge could be endangered by a blanket moratorium on new schools there.
If there are opportunities for compromise here, there also are hard questions about what the policy details will be.
CABL President Barry Erwin noted that Edwards had been a cordial critic, somebody whom the opposition could talk to without rancor during heated debates. That’s one of the governor-elect’s secret weapons and one that is likely to be broadly welcomed in the State Capitol after years of hardball politics — not least, Jindal’s ramming education bills through in 2012 with scant regard to the hard feelings such tactics engendered.
A dirty secret of education reform is that many of the hot-button disputes of recent years matter less than the disputants might think. Governance questions about whether a school is run by a nonprofit’s board or an elected school board, or percentages on evaluations are not as important as steady commitments to accountability, hard work and discipline in schools, better-paid teachers in classrooms and school boards that care about performance instead of politics.
We welcome the commitment of the governor-elect to policies that can be sustained for the long term. That’s where progress is.