Education again in legislative spotlight

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Louisiana Legislature convened for its regular spring session Monday, for nearly three months of debate, grandstanding and — hopefully — compromise. Much time will be spent on traditional and necessary items such as the budget and funding for health care and higher education. Some newer matters, such as the legalization of marijuana or same-sex marriage may find their way to the agenda. But a large portion of the next few months will be devoted to several aspects of K-12 education.

This week, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is expected to present the Legislature with its recommended reformulation of the state’s Minimum Foundation Program, which determines the amount of money given to local school districts for each student enrolled. The expected increase will be the first in several years, so while this may be one of the most eagerly anticipated education-related items of the session for many districts that are now struggling to keep up with unfunded state-mandate and retirement costs, the MFP is far from the only item being discussed this session that could have a dramatic effect on K-12 education.

A couple of years ago, Gov. Bobby Jindal rammed an extensive education reform package through the Legislature. Unfortunately, much of the two-part legislation, which revamped everything from teaching standards to school board powers, has been stuck in legal limbo since then, leaving many local districts unsure of which parts of the legislation need to be followed and which don’t.

Further, last year the state rolled out Common Core State Standards, then after a hefty backlash, pulled back somewhat, again leaving districts unsure of how to proceed. St. John the Baptist Parish Superintendent Kevin George has said he is in favor of Common Core and does not support a delay its testing aspect, but he would like to see a supporting curriculum for the educational standards.

Progress, especially in the education sector, is both positive and necessary, but legislators must learn that the state’s children are not guinea pigs. They deserve progress, but they also deserve stability. A bill or mandate that is not well thought out only serves to erode both the public’s and the students’ faith in a system that is already on shaky ground.

If Louisiana continues to try to go too far too fast, it will find itself well behind where it was when all these “reforms” began.