09.15.2011 0

Gov. Jindal To Campaign on Behalf of School Choice Candidates as Part of His Re-Election Effort

By Kevin Mooney — Louisiana school board candidates who favor vouchers and oppose tenure are expected to receive a boost from Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is up for re-election this fall, and a new political action committee. Jindal has been an ardent proponent of school choice initiatives, which puts him at odds with the teachers unions.

All eight of the elected seats on the 11 member Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) are open to primary challenges on Oct. 22. The other three seats are appointed by the governor.

Only one incumbent, Linda Johnson, a Plaquemine resident, has announced that she is not running for re-election. Glenny Lee Buquet of Houma, a former BESE president who has served on the board since 1992, recently announced that she would seek another term. Houma had previously indicated that she would step down but reconsidered at the behest of Gov. Jindal. At least six of the elected seats could be highly competitive.

In April, a new statewide group called the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education, which includes teachers unions, local school board officials and local superintendents, came together in an effort to oppose Jindal’s school choice initiatives and to back its own candidates.

The organization includes leaders of the: Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA); Louisiana Association of School Superintendents (LASS): Louisiana Association of School Executives (LASE): Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE); Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT); Louisiana Retired Teachers Association, (LRTA); founder/board chairman and directors of Research on Reform, Inc.; and the creator of the blog “Louisiana Educator.”

“What we see in the state leadership is simple capitalistic ideology, a kind of `Disaster Capitalism,’ not an emphasis on quality education,” Dr. James Taylor, president of the Louisiana Retired Teachers Association, said in a press release.

Charles Hatfield, a coalition member who works as an analyst with Research on Reforms, Inc., described the Jindal Administration position on education as “market‐driven propaganda, a sort of ‘gain’ game with school performance scores perpetuating a myth to the public.”

Joe Potts, President Emeritus and a member of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers, another Coalition member challenged the idea that schools should be run in a more business-like manner.  “Why should schools need to be run more like a business, when it is well documented that more than half of all businesses fail?” he asked.

But a new political action committee (PAC) called The Alliance for Better Classrooms (ABC) has also entered the fray. ABC will spend at least $1 million on “reform candidates” who support its policy objectives, Lane Grisby, a Baton Rouge contractor who helped form the PAC, has told members of the press.

The Alliance favors “student-based budgeting,” which gives principals more flexibility in local appropriations, school choice programs and annual teacher evaluations. Gov. Jindal and former Superintendent Paul Pastorek frequently secured 6-5 votes on BESE to advance many of the policy changes that ABC also supports.

The school voucher program known as the Student Scholarships for Education Excellence (SSEE) program has been active for the past four years in New Orleans. Initially, vouchers were limited to the kindergarten through third grade, but they have expanded each year to include a higher-grade level.

Currently 1,697 voucher recipients are enrolled in private schools, less than 5 percent of the 40,000 public school students. But supporters now see an opportunity to expand the use of school vouchers throughout the state given the steady rise in demand for scholarships over the past few years. The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), for example, has asked that lawmakers consider the use of school vouchers in Baton Rouge and Shreveport.

“The status quo will argue that vouchers will hurt the system, but they’re not going to hurt the system if their schools are competitive,” said Chas Roemer, a board member running for re-election. “But if a school is not the school of choice then we need to ask why. We also need to ask why it’s right to send a child to a school that is not working.”

Roemer has been endorsed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), which has also lined up behind some of the new challengers including Kira Orange Jones, executive director of Teach for America in Louisiana, a non-profit group aimed at eliminating inequality in education. Orange Jones will face off against incumbent Louella Givens, a New Orleans lawyer and former teacher, who has consistently voted against reforms favored by Jindal and Pastorek.

LABI and ABC are also looking to unseat Dale Bayard of Lake Charles and favor his opponent Holly Boffy of Lafayette. LABI has endorsed Boffy, who was Louisiana’s 2010 teacher of the year. Boffy is also an outspoken opponent of teacher tenure.

Kevin Mooney is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinMooneyDC.

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