Jindal Comes Out Swinging for Education Reform

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wants everyone to be prepared: he’s going into the next legislative session ready for a fight, and his goal is a major reform of the state’s education system. Jindal outlined his plans on Friday while speaking at a luncheon hosted by the Chamber of Southwest Louisiana.

“Good news is we’re moving in the right direction. Our retention and graduation rates are moving in the right direction. I graduated from a great public school in Louisiana. My wife graduated from a great public school in Louisiana. You can get a great education in Louisiana,” Jindal shared with the crowd of business and political leaders.

The bad news? The governor quickly pointed out deficiencies in the state’s educational system that he says will be the focus of the current session.
“We also need to be honest with ourselves. We need to admit that when we look at the data, Louisiana ranks in the bottom five states in educational outcomes. Note that 44 percent of our students get Ds or Fs in our schools. One-third of our kids are below grade level. Yes, we’re moving in the right direction, but we have to move more quickly.

The 2012 legislative session, which opened on Monday, will see an introduction of over 1,500 bills — but the ones being most closely watched are Jindal’s proposals that make up his plan for education reform. Getting the most early attention are HB974 which will tighten up the rules for teacher tenure, HB933 which will introduce standards for early childhood education, including at preschools and day-care centers and HB976:

… the “choice” bill, which would expand the New Orleans private school voucher plan statewide, would allow parents to send students to any high-scoring public school, even across parish lines, pay for enrolling in virtual schools and allow parents to petition to have failing schools taken over by the Recovery School District. Vouchers also could pay for high school students co-enrolling in college or industry-based training.

The Senate versions of these bills have also been filed.

Teachers unions across the state are already preparing to make sure that the Governor’s voice isn’t the only one heard in the State Capitol. Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teachers’ unions in the sate, said that he expects a large turnout of members later this week, to make sure their concerns get a hearing too. Monaghan says he opposes the legislative schedule set by the House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter, who hopes to move all of Jindal’s bills out to the floor either by Wednesday or Thursday.

That is too fast for such far-reaching bills, Monaghan countered.

“I am expecting a significant number of teachers to attend on either Wednesday or Thursday or both,” he said.

“If Steve Carter and the committee are thinking clearly, they will not be moving the legislation on Wednesday,” Monaghan said.

“You have an 85-day session here,” Monaghan said. “You don’t need to muscle it through committee.”