12 May 2015

Committee action, May 12: HB 21, HB 411, HB 333

HB 21 by state Rep. John Bel Edwards would prevent high-ranked districts in accountability to have charter schools if local districts refuse them, preventing the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from overriding such a decision unless it was a failing school and/or committed to serving students with exceptionalities. After minor amendments were adopted, Edwards said to the House Education Committee that there was no correlation between quality and performance of schools and that local governance was best in determining whether successful districts should have charter schools.

Proponents argued that by allowing the chartering of these schools in successful districts, it allowed unintentional subversion of the mission of charter schools primary as vehicles to assist at-risk students, As part of that, this could cause segregation by race. They claimed that these charter schools can use things like discipline policy to take the cream from the top. They also appealed to the concept of local control without state interference.

Opponents said the bill would discriminate against C-rated, D-rated, and F-rated districts, which would not “protect” most minority-majority, high-poverty districts; would deny opening schools that do serve primarily at-risk students because of political agendas of school board majorities and provided an appeals process for all that usually ruled in favor of school boards anyway; and poor schools in better districts should have the tool of charter schools maximally available for consideration of their improvement. Also, they said it was appropriate to have state involvement in the matter since the majority of funding of local districts came from the state and state law determined local powers. They pointed out that almost half of all dropouts statewide come from better-performing districts, and that many students headed to charter schools are probable dropouts. They also questioned that if Edwards saw no relationship between performance scores and quality, then why would a bill be built discriminating along those lines? Additionally, they noted that lottery rules for selection into a charter school favored at-risk students. Finally, they claimed the bill was unconstitutional.

Edwards closed by claiming the bill wouldn’t change the ability of schools to get chartered and that if voters put it local boards that didn’t want to charter schools, so be it. He argued that if the ability to override local decisions continued, people would stop paying taxes although he didn’t specify whether these were local taxes or the larger state taxes. He called it a modest in scope.

All Democrats present on the committee except Rep. Walt Leger voted for it, all Republicans on it voted against it except for Rep. Rob Shadoin, and no-party Rep. Dee Richard voted for it, producing a 6-10 vote to approve it with amendments. It then unanimously was deferred involuntarily.

HB 411 by Rep. Ted James would amend the Constitution to transfer admission standards from the Board of Regents to separate systems. He said the bill would not weaken standards, but said current rules forced students who would do better in senior institutions into junior institutions.

Leger noted that this would go against the grain of the current model of more appropriately placing less-ready students in community colleges. James said if someone “did bad on a Saturday” shouldn’t “force” them out of senior institutions, and said if he hadn’t taken the American College Test more than once, he might not have gotten as far as he had by having to go to a community college. Leger said he wondered whether the bill put institutions before students’ needs.

Rep. Pat Smith asked about other states’ practices. James alleged they had more relaxed standards and were attracting Louisiana students. Rep. Chris Broadwater said the bill would confuse lines of authority, of the Regents, to make policy, and of the systems, to manage. Rep. Patrick Jefferson said provision of higher education should not be one size fits all.

Proponents argued that giving systems power over admissions created better flexibility and claimed the current standards were arbitrary, by contrast with other out-of-state schools, and it made it too hard for older students to enter college. A representative of the Regents, said while flexibility was desirable, policy-making should be centralized.

James in closing said “horrible test-takers” should not suffer under the current standards. He did say alternative bills might be work to moot this one, but he wanted it to advance. It was reported favorably 9-4, with a number of Republicans absent but a couple of them joining all Democrats in voting for it.

HB 333 by Rep. Wesley Bishop would allow teaching of remedial courses at baccalaureate-and-above regional higher educational institutions. One course would be permitted, as opposed to none now, reversing the restriction in state law since 2012. He said too many students drop out and having an additional remedial course would help keep them in. Richard noted that tuition was allowing to be increased, but this seemed like backtracking in standards that was promised in order to allow tuition increases.

Without objection, the bill advanced.

The Elizabeth Taylor Rule
Potentially, a far-reaching new concept was born when a witness assured the committee that he would follow this rule, or that he would speak no longer than the typical length of her marriages. Chairman Rep. Steve Carter was so taken by it he chided several speakers thereafter to observe it. Look for its invocation to become a staple within the committee and perhaps spread far and wide across to others, the chamber, and even to the entire Legislature. Whether it will be followed is another matter.

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