Minden Press-Herald

Wednesday
Oct 01st

Reynolds votes against first bills

State Representative Gene Reynolds expressed his dissatisfaction with the content and hurried pace of Governor Bobby Jindal's education reform plan by voting "no" on the two bills pushed through the House in a marathon 15-and-one-half-hour session.

He said many of his constituents mere not satisfied either.

"First and foremost," Reynolds said. "I got hundreds of emails and phone calls against both these bills. And you would think it's mostly teachers, but there were a lot of people that really didn't like the non-accountability of the money that goes along with these programs."

The House portion of Jindal's plan is composed of HB974, which relates to teacher tenure performance and evaluation, and HB976, which relates to school choice and "vouchers" to use public funds to pay for private or charter school education.

"When you look at the bill itself (HB976), here are the things I find wrong with it," Reynolds said. "Number one, you're setting up really four different school systems.

"You're setting up public funds to private school, you're setting up public funds to charter school, you're setting up public funds to cyber school (virtual school) and course providers."

Each would operate under different requirements and parameters, according to Reynolds. Public schools require certification for teachers, but charter schools only require a bachelor's degree.

"So the accountability, the academic accountability was not there for me," he said. "The fiscal accountability was not there for me.

"Two or three days ago, I spoke with the head legislative auditor and he told me that if this bill went through, that auditing and keeping up with the money would be an absolute nightmare," Reynolds said. "And that we would definitely be back in session next year, maybe a special session, to fix the money problems."

The content of the bills may not be the only money issues with the legislation.

Minden Press-Herald has learned through a search of the Louisiana Ethics Association website (www.ethics.state.la.us) that six of 20 members of the House Education Committee and six of seven members of the Senate Education Committee received donations from Jindal's campaign.

The amounts for each were: Senator Conrad Appel (committee chair) – $2,500; Sen. Daniel Claitor – $2,500; Sen. Jack Donahue – $2,500; Sen. Elbert Guillory – $7,500 in three donations, two on the same day; Sen. Michael Walsworth – $2,500; Sen. Mack "Bodi" White – $2,500; Rep. Chris Broadwater – $2,500 in two donations; Rep. Henry Burns – $2,500 in two donations; Rep. Stephen Carter – $2,500; Rep. Simone Champagne – $2,500; Rep. Nancy Landry – $2,500 and Rep. John Schroder – $2,500.

In addition to money, Reynolds was also concerned that some students would not be given the same choices and opportunities as others.

"I didn't like the fact that we just sort of left the kids with disabilities behind. I hate that," he said. "You can't do that. The way the bill is set up, if you are a private school, and you don't have services, you don't have to offer them.

"I offered an amendment that was shot down," Reynolds continued. "That if a child with disabilities did apply to your school with a voucher, that you have to establish some services. Those services can be on-site, those services could have been in contract with the public schools, but they didn't want to hear that."

Reynolds said that it was clear those who were pushing the bills had their own agenda and were not interested working together for compromise.

"They had their thing down and they were going to go with that hell-bent," he said. "And that's the truth. It wasn't just Republicans, there was a mixture, but the people were for these things no matter what."

With HB974 currently 14 pages long and HB976 at 45, Reynolds said he believes many elements of the bills that were lumped together should have been voted for separately in their own bills.

"In that bill (HB974), they tried to shove a bunch of things down, and I would have voted for it had it been just redoing tenure," Reynolds said. "But then they wanted to go a step further. They wanted to change all the power hierarchy."

According to Reynolds, the bill would change the function of the school board and remove their power over the superintendent.

"The superintendent would be the CEO and not answer to the school board," he said. "He handles all the money, he establishes the salaries."

Reynolds said he was for school choice and would have voted for a bill containing only it, but that he was not for providing public money to non-public schools over public schools.

"It did a lot of things that were going to cause problems locally, I thought," Reynolds said.

He said he had been told to expect numerous lawsuits around the bill because parts are not legal.

For example, one part of HB974 states "Any employment contract ... between a local school board and a superintendent that does not meet the requirements established in this Subsection shall be declared null and void."

However, the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution explicitly forbids states to make any law "impairing the Obligation of Contracts."

"If you've got this many problems with a proposed bill, once it goes into effect multiply that times 10," Reynolds said. "Because other problems will pop up that you didn't see. So, I just felt like it was rushed through. Nobody was given enough time to sit down in a group. And they didn't want to talk.

"Superintendent of Education John White ... this was his plan from New York City," Reynolds said. "This is an identical copy of New York City. Identical. The success up there has been mediocre, but it's not enough for me to go hook, line and sinker about it."

 

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