Late-Night Louisiana House Advances School Choice, Tenure Reform Bills

A lot of big people were paying attention to Louisiana this weekend because of some big presidential primary election there. But I’m more interested in Bayou State developments from the world of K-12 education. And they look pretty big from here.

Last Thursday night Republicans and Democrats in the Louisiana House of Representatives came together to approve a major educational voucher and charter school expansion (House Bill 976). The programs are mainly aimed at low-income students enrolled in schools with mediocre or poor performance on the state’s accountability system. The discussion and vote (63-42) went late into the night.

But then came another vote that kept the legislators past midnight, well after I was tucked into bed. The legislative initiative to reform teacher policies appears in some ways to be even more ambitious than Colorado’s 2010 landmark Senate Bill 191 — including the requirement to tie educator effectiveness more closely to compensation, in addition to evaluations and tenure. The measure passed by a nearly identical margin as the choice bill, 64-40.

So wherever you come down, last Thursday (and into Friday) presented a significant education reform shift as Governor Bobby Jindal tries to etch his mark on the K-12 landscape.

The back-to-back votes came just a few short days after a Friedman Foundation for Education Choice survey was released, showing nearly 2 in 3 Louisiana voters back the voucher expansion. Close behind the 63 percent who expressed support for the choice program, 56 percent said they favor the tenure reform package. Say what you will, the lower chamber of the legislature reflected popular opinion in the Bayou State.

One last important point to make: Adam Emerson at Choice Words addressed an issue raised by opponents in Louisiana’s legislative debate who “want the state to penalize private schools for poor performance.” Emerson explores the issue of voucher school accountability. He suggests a commonsense approach can be adopted that may prevent unnecessary harm while keeping a light touch on private schools, perhaps based specifically on the share of public funds they take in.

Not the first time the issue has emerged, but it’s still worthy of close consideration. Better to be talking about how choice programs can be held accountable than not to have choice, I say.