After a marathon hearing, the state's top school board Wednesday night approved state Superintendent of Education John White's plan to overhaul Louisiana's long-suffering public schools.

The vote was 7-4 and followed nearly six hours of public testimony and panel debate.

The board also agreed for the state to submit the plan to federal officials in April, not the September date pushed by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Under the plan, all-important rulemaking on how the changes are implemented would start in late June.

Allies of Edwards and White had tangled for hours Wednesday afternoon over the proposal.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education endorsed it after a final round of heated comments.

BESE member Jim Garvey, who backed the changes, said it was high time for action because the state has long lied to parents and students about the meaning of A, B and C schools.

Garvey said the overhaul will inject long overdue academic rigor in how schools are assessed.

But Doris Voitier, a BESE member and superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish School District, said it was highly significant that 61 of 69 superintendents favored a delay, and 96 percent of principals.

Voitier said the plan was incomplete.

All three of the governor's appointees voted against the motion.

They were joined by BESE member Kathy Edmonston, who lives in Gonzales.

In an unusual move, shortly after the vote BESE began considering changes to the proposal, including an end to the curved grading system in 2018, tweaks in how subgroups are reported and  calls for a final gathering of civil rights and other leaders before the outline is sent to Washington, D. C.

White, in his opening comments, asked BESE to endorse his draft, direct his agency to submit it to federal officials shortly after April 15 and prepare for all-important rule making to implement the changes in late June.

"We are trying to take a first step, to tell the federal government how we plan to comply with their rules," he said.

But Donald Songy, education policy adviser for Edwards, said submission of the proposal should be put off for months. Songy told BESE a compromise is possible but more time is needed.

White's plan would change how public school letter grades are figured, trim testing and devote some federal education dollars to struggling public schools in rural areas.

One of the key features would allow yearly academic growth to count for 25 percent of school performance scores, and apply to all students.

Under current rules, those gains count for 7 percent of the score and only applies to struggling students.

Debra Schum, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Principals, agreed with calls for a delay in submitting the plan to federal officials. "This is about getting people on the same team," Schum said.

She said 96 percent of principals statewide agree with calls for a delay.

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Keith Leger, an official of Stand For Children, backed White's proposal and timeline. "The right choice is rarely the easiest choice but it is the right choice," Leger said.

Leger is director of educator engagement and advocacy for the group.

The changes are being prompted by a federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act, called ESSA.

Others who spoke in support of White's outline were the Louisiana Federation for Children, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the Council for a Better Louisiana.

Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, urged BESE to delay action. "We shouldn't be rushing to do something that will hurt students, hurt teachers and our state," Smith said.

"Only 12 states are going to submit plans in April," she added. "What is the rush for us?"

Other critics included the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana School Boards Association.

Backers of White's outline included Democrats for Education Reform/Louisiana.

Eva Kemp, state director of the group, said a delay means needed school changes would not take place until 2019. "These arguments are simply not enough to warrant a complete halt in our state's accountability system," Kemp said.

The governor wants more input from "stakeholders," and to send the state's plan to federal officials in September.

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, disputed comments that quick action is needed on the plan for the sake of students. "If we are waiting for a plan to dictate rigor something is wrong," Meaux said.

Disputed topics include public school letter grades, how many science and other exams students should take and how federal education dollars are spent.

The governor and his allies favor big cuts in annual, state-mandated science tests.

Edwards, in a letter to White last week, also complained that the superintendent's outline lacks transparency.

Songy, in his comments to BESE, reitereated criticism that the proposal lacks public involvement.

White has said his agency held 136 meetings on ESSA.

"There has been a lack of meaningful stakeholder input into the plan," Songy told the group Wednesday.

Backers of the plan said there will be months for changes in the proposal, and more input from a wide range of groups.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.