Rarely do the announcements of legislative committee leaders spark controversy, but this one did.
State Rep. Nancy Landry’s recent selection to lead the powerful House Education Committee triggered criticism from leaders of Louisiana’s two teachers unions.
In addition, Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, who has been on the panel for eight years, said she thought about quitting the committee when Landry was named.
Former Livingston Parish Superintendent J. Rogers Pope, R-Livingston, another panel member, heard so much talk he would resign in protest over Landry’s selection that he brought up the issue.
“He told me he heard those rumors and wanted me to know they are not true,” Landry said. “He might request off the committee but that it was nothing personal.”
Landry, a Lafayette Republican, is the outspoken leader of a committee that has seen some of the most volatile debates in the State Capitol since 2012. That list includes tougher teacher evaluations, the statewide expansion of vouchers and Common Core.
More arguments are certain this year, including over likely bids by Gov. John Bel Edwards to put curbs on charter schools and vouchers as well as proposed revisions in the always controversial Common Core academic standards.
Landry, the mother of five, makes no apologies for her views on public schools and the need for students to have school choices.
“Your destiny should not be determined by your ZIP code,” she said.
Asked about criticism from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators teachers unions, she said, “My focus is on the children; their focus is on the adults in the system.”
Landry, 53, is a family law counselor and petroleum “land man,” which means she does title and other legal work before any oil drilling.
She was easily elected to the House in 2008, after narrowly losing her first bid the previous year.
Landry was named to the Education Committee in time for historic debates in 2012 on former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s push for sweeping changes in public schools.
One of the high-profile bills she backed — the statewide expansion of aid to allow some low-income students to attend private school — is at the heart of her philosophy on public schools: lots of options.
Landry said she helped usher five children through 11 public schools in three states.
“My perspective in education is as a parent, the consumer side of it,” she said.
One episode that made an impression, she said, was when one of her sons attended an A-rated public school in Lafayette that was not a good fit.
Landry said she could not afford a private school and charter schools were not an option at the time.
“So we had to endure a year of an uncomfortable situation for him that changed the way he felt about schools for the next 10 years,” she said.
Landry is seen as a solid vote for sweeping changes in public schools, which usually puts her at odds with the teachers unions.
“From our side, she has been very strong,” said Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, which backed most of the 2012 Jindal education overhaul.
Carrie Griffin Monica, executive director of Stand for Children, said Landry “has been a passionate advocate for children, teachers and parents throughout her four-year tenure on the Education Committee.”
Landry backed tougher job reviews for teachers, the statewide expansion of vouchers and the creation of a new school district in southeast Baton Rouge.
She also supported last year’s Common Core compromise to require a review of the benchmarks and is expected to oppose any Edwards bid to curb the growth of charter schools.
Landry was named to the committee by House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia.
Republicans enjoy a 10-6 committee majority over Democrats, a sore spot with Edwards and other top Democrats because of the margin.
Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, called Landry “one of the most ideologically driven members of the House Education Committee.”
Smith said hard feelings remain from an incident in 2012 during heated testimony in the House Education Committee room on Jindal’s voucher expansion measure.
Landry, then a rank-and-file member of the panel, made a motion to ask teachers and other witnesses to say whether they were using a personal or sick day to attend.
“Nancy really gave teachers a hard time during that period of time,” Smith said.
Landry said last week her motion — it passed the committee — allowed educators to make clear they were not using a sick day to testify, as some news reports said.
“I wanted people to have an opportunity to clear their names,” she said.