While public schools were mostly untouched during the special session, battles are looming over vouchers, charter schools and scarce state dollars when the 2016 regular session begins Monday.
Bills awaiting action would ban new voucher recipients, restrict the growth of charter schools and other steps to roll back the education overhaul pushed by former Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Other measures would rewrite the rules on how public school teachers are evaluated — a key part of Jindal’s bid to improve student achievement — and require charter school teachers to meet the same certification rules as those in rank-and-file public schools.
“I definitely think there will be plenty of attacks on things that we care about,” said Carrie Monica, executive director of Stand For Children, which backed many of the school changes enacted since 2012.
Leaders of traditional public school groups, who have an ally in Gov. John Bel Edwards, said key parts of the overhaul need tweaking, and that charter schools need more rules.
“I am sure there will be a lot of attention on the charter school bills,” said Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, one of the state’s two teacher unions.
The nearly three-month session begins at noon Monday, and this time the education landscape has a new cast of characters.
Unlike his predecessor, Edwards, a longtime ally of teacher unions, favors new restrictions on vouchers and charter schools.
The Senate Education Committee, formerly headed by an ally of self-styled public school reformers, is now led by Sen. Blade Morrish, R-Jennings, who has filed legislation to restrict where charter schools can go.
In addition, three of the panel’s seven members are new to the Legislature — Sens. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette; John Milkovich, D-Shreveport; and Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton.
The new chairwoman of the House Education Committee is state Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, an ally of public school overhaul advocates and a nightmare choice for teacher unions.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, a veteran member of Landry’s committee, has filed a proposal — House Bill 137 — that would freeze Louisiana’s voucher rolls for the 2016-17 school year.
Vouchers are state aid for students from low-income families attending public schools rated C, D or F.
About 7,100 students get the assistance, mostly minorities.
Smith said vouchers, which cost $41 million this year, need scrutiny at a time when state services face an $800 million shortfall starting July 1.
“The vouchers are going to get a lot of conversations,” she said.
Smith wants to ban kindergarten students from getting vouchers unless they would otherwise attend public schools rated D or F, House Bill 126; prohibit local groups from authorizing charter schools, House Bill 98; and require that charter school teachers have the same certifications as those in traditional public schools, House Bill 168.
Charter schools are public schools run by nongovernment boards, and about 69,000 students attend them in Louisiana.
Backers say the schools are supposed to be independent operations where classroom innovation can flourish.
Stephanie Desselle, who follows public school issues for the Council for a Better Louisiana, said her side is gearing up for a bevy of anti-overhaul measures. “I just think, from the bills that have been filed, there definitely is going to be many attempts to curtail the autonomy of charter schools, to limit parents and educators and communities’ abilities to come together and have charters,” Desselle said.
And backers of such bills, she said, will have a more receptive governor with Edwards.
“Just on his comments I am sure he would be open to some of their efforts to derail school choice as much as possible,” Desselle said.
Morrish is sponsoring legislation — Senate Bill 170 — that would ban the state’s top school board from authorizing charter schools in districts rated A or B.
Union-backed proposals by Gonzales Rep. Ed Price — House Bill 723 — and New Orleans Sen. Wesley Bishop — Senate Bill 279 — would revamp the formula used to evaluate teachers annually.
Under current rules, the growth of student achievement accounts for half of the review.
Edwards has said he favors keeping state aid to public schools at current levels.
Even that is not a given with state services facing an $800 million shortfall, said Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. “It’s going to be a fight,” Monaghan said.
Monica said her group is concerned about possible cuts to pre-kindergarten just four years after the Legislature ordered a radical overhaul of the program.
“They don’t get as much attention in the media as they deserve,” she said of pre-K students.
While both education committees will review Common Core revisions, whether that will happen before adjournment on June 6 is unclear.
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