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Using ALEC Playbook, Bobby Jindal Radically Reshapes Public Education

Bobby Jindal has transformed public education in Louisiana and education advocates have deep concerns about who's going to benefit.
 
 
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Reprinted with permission of Colorlines.com. For more news from a racial justice perspective, sign up to receive weekly Colorlines Direct.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has remade the Louisiana public schools system with impressive speed over the past legislative session. Last week, he signed into law a suite of landmark reform bills that will likely change the direction of public education in Louisiana forever. But not all change is good, and critics say both Jindal’s agenda and the strategy to move it come right from the playbook of conservative advocacy group ALEC, in an effort to revive Jindal’s national political profile.

Louisiana is now home to the nation’s most expansive school voucher program. Charter school authorization powers have been broadened. And teacher tenure policies have been radically transformed. Louisiana already had something of a reputation as a radical-reform state, thanks to the post-Katrina educational climate in New Orleans. But not all change is good, and education advocates have deep concerns about the efficacy of Jindal’s overhaul, and the interests that have push it.

“With these laws Gov. Bobby Jindal has sold our kids out for his political aspirations,” said Karran Royal Harper, a Louisiana parent activist and education advocate.

The bills all sprinted through the state legislature. Committee hearings were conducted at a breakneck speed, Democratic lawmakers complained, and members were asked to vote on amendments they didn’t actually understand. When the House took up a bill changing teacher-tenure rules, it ran the session past midnight, refusing to break until they called for a vote.

“There’s just so much more here than what our group can handle,” said Minh Nguyen, executive director of the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans, a community advocacy group. “We don’t even have the capacity to handle all the bills that are being proposed right now and it’s been really challenging to us.”

ALEC’s 2010 “Report Card on American Education” ( PDF) suggested that lawmakers overwhelm their opposition in exactly this manner. “Do not simply just introduce one reform in the legislature—build a consensus for reform and introduce a lot,” the report authors told ALEC members.

“Across the country for the past two decades, education reform efforts have popped up in legislatures at different times in different places,” the report authors wrote. “As a result, teachers’ unions have been playing something akin to ‘whack-a- mole’—you know the game—striking down as many education reform efforts as possible. Many times, the unions successfully ‘whack’ the ‘mole,’ i.e., the reform legislation. Sometimes, however, they miss. If all the moles pop up at once, there is no way the person with the mallet can get them all. Introduce comprehensive reform packages.”

One new law Jindal moved in this fashion will make Louisiana among the most aggressive states in the nation for pushing charter schools and publicly funded vouchers for private institutions. It also includes a “parent trigger” provision, where parents whose children are enrolled in a failing school can hand the school over to Louisiana’s Recovery School District if a majority choose to do so. However the key provision expands New Orleans’ current pilot voucher program so that now, students from high-poverty families enrolled in schools that have been rated a C, D or F by the state may move to a private school at the state’s expense.

More than half of Louisiana’s student population, or around 380,000 students, are expected to qualify for the voucher program, according to the Jindal administration. Only 4,000 vouchers will be available in the first year, experts estimate, but the law makes Louisiana’s program the most expansive in the nation.