(Editor's note: The following is written by Rep. Gene Reynolds following last week's committee meetings on education.)
Thanks to all for your comments and questions about the education reform bills currently going through the Legislature. Two bills have cleared committee and will soon be debated on the floor. I am not ready to commit to a yes or no vote at this time until I can hear from as many of the constituents as possible. Your voice is very important and I intend to vote with the majority in District 10.
Here are my thoughts so far in this debate:
While school choice has benefits, the issues in this bill come down to several points that will cause problems in the future.
1. The funding for charter schools will come from MFP per child allotments. Included in those allotments are local funds voted by the citizens for other programs or uses. HB 976 will allow these funds to follow the student to a charter school, private school, or another public school in another parish. We are being told by Superintendent of Education John White that the effect will be minimal, but the end result will be that some of our local funds will have to be redirected to supplement the MFP. In the short term there will be very few slots for students with vouchers to take, but in time there will be several charter schools in our area, so the funding will become a factor.
2. The wording on children with disabilities is very weak and unclear. Currently, the local private schools and charter schools have no special education services.
3. Testing will continue as unchanged in the public schools, but only the voucher students will be tested in the charter school and private schools. Those students will take the test, but they will not be high stakes in the 4th and 8th grades like they are in public schools.
4. The voucher funds will be distributed in four payments during the year based on the enrollment of the voucher student on that day. The accounting will be difficult and staffing plans as well as ordering supplies and other materials will be a challenge for all of the schools. We currently do child count on October 1 for the MFP.
5. The discipline rules remain the same for the public schools, but if a student has discipline or GPA problems at charter or private schools, they can be sent back to the public schools and lose their voucher.
6. Webster Parish is under a Federal Desegregation Order that will have to be removed for students to be able to move across attendance and parish lines. We do have a verbal commitment from the Governor to help with this problem.
7. Teachers at all schools under this new plan will only have to have a bachelor's degree to teach. No teacher certification will be required.
There are other issues in this 51-page document that will take time and money to address. I encourage you to read this bill and give me your thoughts.
1. The new tenure law would be based on a 5-year plan where a teacher would have to earn a HIGHLY EFFECTIVE rating for five consecutive years in order to earn tenure. The rating system would be based on the ACT 54 value-added evaluation program. The rankings are NONEFFECTIVE--EFFECTIVE--HIGHLY EFFECTIVE. Statewide they will use a bell curve grading system that will only allow 10 percent HIGHLY EFFECTIVE--80 percent EFFECTIVE--10 percent NON EFFECTIVE. This means no matter how many teachers score at the highly effective level only 10 percent would earn the label for tenure or rewards purposes. Employment decisions such as hiring, evaluations that determine tenure status, and layoff plans would shift from school boards to superintendents and principals. (Evaluations include reviews by principals and performance measures by a teacher's students.)
2. In any public system scoring C or below in statewide accountability assessment, the superintendent's contract would have to be rewritten to include targets for improvement in student test scores, graduation rates and teacher evaluations. The local board would be required to terminate a superintendent who failed to meet those contracted goals.
3. Seniority would end as a consideration in any instances of layoffs, with the new rules tying reduction-of-force decision to the teacher evaluation system, which includes student-performance measures.
4. Teachers hired after July 1, 2012, would have to be rated "highly effective" under evaluation system for five consecutive years in order to acquire tenure. (Currently tenured teachers won the protection after three years of being rehired by their school systems.)
5. Any teacher, including those who already have tenure, would lose the protected status upon being rated "ineffective," giving superintendents the power to fire them immediately. Teachers would have the right to appeal. Teachers could reacquire tenure under the same five-year "highly effective" standard applied to new hires.
6. Superintendents would be able to dismiss teachers with tenure without a dismissal hearing, which under current law is held before the local school board, by providing written charges that could include incompetence, poor performance or willful neglect of duty. This bill would set the first appeal hearing before a three-person panel: superintendent, fired teacher's principal, another teacher of the fired employee's choice. State court appeal could follow.
7. Any person hired as a school lunch supervisor after July 1, 2012, could not acquire tenure.
The other big item this week was HB969. Passed by the Ways and Means Committee, this bill will give a 95 percent rebate to those who donate for scholarships to private and parochial schools.
As you can see it has been a busy week. Please look at these issues and let us know how you feel about each one. These bills have passed committee and will soon be on the floor. Remember sometimes the language in these bills yield situations that are different from what was intended.
I will be in the office next Friday. Please come by or call if you have questions.
Rep. Gene Reynolds