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The education establishments wants him recalled, even as as education reforms are felt far beyond Louisiana.
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Sen. Conrad Appel, who chairs the Louisiana Senate Education Committee, anticipates that the school choice initiatives now taking root Louisiana will serve as an impetus for similar efforts in other states. But he also cautions against the idea the school voucher system standing alone will have an immediate impact on a substantial number of students. He does anticipate that the program will grow over time.”
“When you compare the voucher proposal with the legislation that could be used to open more charter schools, the modifications to teacher accountability, and the [re-defined] relationship between school boards, superintendents and principals we are talking about a gradual and incremental change,” he said. “But I think the voucher concept is very valid, and it does create opportunities for families that would not otherwise have a choice.”
Under the new legislation passed in May, any Louisiana student enrolled in a school with a C grade or lower is permitted to apply for a voucher. About 950 schools out of 1300 statewide fall in this category. (The letter grades applied to schools are based on student test scores. This new evaluation method, which became law in 2010, supplants an earlier system that used stars and labels to assess school performance. Gov. Jindal viewed the star and label approach as being a bit vague.)
School voucher applicants must also be part of a household with an income that does not exceed 250 percent of the federal poverty rate, or $57,625 for a family of four. This means about 380,000 students out of 700,000 statewide were eligible to apply for the school year beginning this fall. The latest figures available through the Louisiana Department of Education show over 7,500 applications were submitted. Students will be selected on the basis of a lottery.
In addition to the 2,300 seats available to voucher students in New Orleans, where a pilot scholarship program has been up and running since 2008, state officials have estimated that about 5,000 seats could be available in the fall.
The same legislation also provides public universities and non-profit groups with the authority to approve new charter schools. Parents would also have the right to convert an F school into a charter school with a majority vote.
Although union officials have expressed skepticism toward the charter school effort, which is now concentrated in New Orleans, their opposition to Jindal is largely concentrated against the expanded voucher program and the new tenure rules.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of school vouchers in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, which involved a pilot scholarship program in Ohio. The Court ruled that the program did not violate the First Amendment’s establishment of religion clause. But there other legal angles open to voucher opponents on the state level.
In June, the Louisiana School Boards Association joined with the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) to file legal challenges against the funding formula used to support the statewide voucher program. The suits claim the Louisiana Constitution precludes funds allocated for public schools from being spent on private institutions. In response, the legal team representing the governor points out the Louisiana Constitution merely stipulates that the state funding be used to benefit public school students, not the school districts per se. Therefore, it is permissible for public school dollars to “follow the child,” they argue.
The LFT has filed a separate suit challenging the reforms Gov. Jindal made to teacher tenure. Under the new policy, teachers rated as “ineffective” after one year would lose tenure, while new teachers would not obtain tenure unless they receive high performance marks over a five year period. Jindal has also interlinked tenure with a new “value-added assessment” that includes student test scores as part of teacher evaluations. Under the previous policy, teachers automatically received tenure after three years.
Earlier this summer, District Judge Tim Kelley in Baton Rouge denied a union petition to issue an injunction that would have prevented the voucher program going forward this August.
But now, the Louisiana Association of Educators is applying legal pressure against the individual schools that are accepting voucher students. School choice proponents from across the country describe the move as “unprecedented.”
One letter from LAE to a Catholic school is online here.
Superintendent John White and Penny Dastugue, who chairs the state board of education, have issued a joint statement today condemning the threats. Several school choice advocacy groups have also weighed in, including the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the American Federation for Children, and the Pelican Institute.
Given how tenacious and effective he has been in the battle for school choice, it’s not surprising that Gov. Jindal was viewed as a potential vice-presidential candidate prior the section of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. If the Republican ticket prevails in November, Jindal would most certainly be in the running for a cabinet position, Chuck Dunn, a distinguished professor of government at Regent University in Virginia Beach, suggested.
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