State education reform rules not easy as ABC

Published 11:45 pm Friday, June 29, 2012

This first in a multi-part series examining the education reform package that will take effect in the upcoming school year.



LAPLACE – Sweeping legislation proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal to reform the education system in the state was the top focus of the recently completed legislative session. The governor’s far-reaching and controversial agenda passed through the session early and with little resistance from lawmakers, but what exactly passed into law? The following is a recap of the main points of the bills that reached the governors desk. The bill breakdown was provided by the Governor’s Office.

The first is House Bill 974, which changes some of the duties of school boards and superintendents. Under this law, employment contracts for superintendents in districts rated C, D and F are required to include more specific performance targets focused on student achievement and recruiting and retaining effective teachers.

In exchange for this additional accountability, the law also requires school boards to delegate hiring, firing and teacher placement powers to superintendents and principals. It also requires that all personnel decisions, including reductions in force, are made primarily based on effectiveness. It bans the use of seniority or tenure as the primary criterion and bases the gaining and losing of tenure on effectiveness for all teachers. Teachers would gain tenure after five “highly effective” ratings in a six-year period and starting in 2014, lose tenure after one “ineffective” rating.

Next is House Bill 976, which expands students’ access to state vouchers to help pay for private school tuition and makes it easier for a school to become a charter school.

The law allows students in statewide C, D and F public schools the opportunity to attend a designated private or parochial school through a state voucher. There are nine schools in the River Parishes participating in the voucher program. Parents must be at a specific income level at or near the Federal Poverty Line to be eligible.

The law also creates three additional pathways to become a charter school and streamlines and improves the charter application process for all charter authorizers. It creates a new type of charter authorizer that would exist under the authority of the State Board of Education to act as a local alternative to local school boards but held to the same high quality standards as the State Board itself.

House Bill 969 creates a dollar for dollar rebate for individual or corporate donations made to designated nonprofit “school tuition organizations” that grant scholarships to low-income students to attend nonpublic schools.

Under this new law, a community member or local business could receive the value of their donation that was expended on a scholarship for a student whose parents make up to 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level to attend private school. School tuition organizations are new or existing nonprofits that have applied to the state for the specific authority of making scholarships for which the donor would be eligible for a rebate under this legislation.

The final bill in the reform package is Senate Bill 581, which creates a coordinated early childhood system framework focused on kindergarten readiness that establishes guidelines for preschool programs that utilize state and federal Head Start funds.

Under this new law the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would create a coordinated early childhood system by July 2013 by establishing a comprehensive definition of kindergarten readiness and setting performance targets for children ages 0-2 and academic standards for children ages 3-4 based on kindergarten readiness and aligned to the Common Core State Standards for K-12.

The law also creates a uniform assessment and accountability system for publicly funded programs that includes letter grades as clear actionable information for parents and sets standardized rules of operation through the Department of Children and Family Services.