April 16 2012
Louisiana Expands School Choice
Vicki E. Alger
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is signing two bills designed to improve teacher quality and expand school choice.
To earn tenure, teachers will now have to rate in the top 10% (measured in part by student performance) for five of six consecutive years, and any teacher who falls into the bottom 10% loses tenure. No teacher in the bottom 10% can get a raise, while layoffs will no longer hit the junior-most teachers first while ignoring performance.
House bill 976 makes more children eligible to transfer to private schools if they attend public schools rated “C,” “D,” or “F” and their family income does not exceed 250 percent of the federal poverty level, about $60,000 for a family of four. This change makes almost 400,000 students eligible. Te bill also expands public-schooling options.
Schools rated failing for three can be converted to charter schools if 51 percent of parents approve the change. A fast-tracked charter authorizing process and an expanded pool of recognized authorizers, including community groups, nonprofits, and universities, will help more good charter schools open.
The new bills build on reforms enacted in 2008 and 2010. “The result,” according to the Wall Street Journal:
…the reforms attracted bipartisan legislative majorities of roughly 60%...one-quarter to one-half of Democrats voted for reform, including many black representatives, especially those from New Orleans. Teachers unions were predictably opposed and even heavier-handed than usual. Michael Walker Jones of the Louisiana Association of Educators dismissed choice on grounds that “If I’m a parent in poverty I have no clue because I’m trying to struggle and live day to day.” Unions pushed principals to cancel school—sometimes giving parents less than 24 hours notice—so teachers could protest at the state Capitol. It was a tired act.