With the express train of education reform in Louisiana thundering their way, opponents of it representing special interests – teachers’ unions, subpar teachers, and politicians wishing to maintain power and privilege and/or ideological purity – who ride the gravy train of more costly, less effective education have sought means by which to derail the express. One such tactic, relying on an idiosyncratic interpretation of constitutional language, in the end may distract but fails as a valid complaint and discouraging factor.
HB 976 by state Rep. Steve Carter and SB 597 by state Sen. Conrad Appel expand a program where families whose children attend adequate or worse schools may attend a higher-ranked public school or private school on money supplied by the state up to a certain level. This structure would improve public education by creating incentives for schools to perform better by wringing out unproductive practices and customary behavior. This allocated money in the instances of the private schools would come from the state Minimum Foundation Program, a formula created by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that only can be accepted or rejected by the Legislature.
But opponents argue that these measures run afoul of the Louisiana Constitution, specifically Art. VIII, Sec. 13(B), which reads, “The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or its successor, shall annually develop and adopt a formula which shall be used to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools as well as to equitably allocate the funds to parish and city school systems.” By this reading, since money for private school tuition – under the legislation thought to be reimbursed maximally at $5,000, well below what the state pays on average per student although above the junior high level private school tuition often is above that – would not be coming from the MFP going to a “public” school, allocating money for that purpose cannot occur.
Prime backer of the reform legislation Gov. Bobby Jindal points to Sec. 1 for a contradictory interpretation that “The legislature shall provide for the education of the people of the state,” without mandating that it must occur through public schools. It also is noteworthy that opponents avoid addressing the fact that if money were siphoned out of the MFP to find the program – which if state estimates of 2,000 participants in the first year would cost at the maximum level $10 million – because the per pupil cost is less, per pupil expenditures for public school students as a whole would increase. Understand that trying to claim the changes would cost extra money – which is at odds with many opponents arguing the real solution to improve education comes with more money, yet with this program they suddenly selectively reject their own theory – is being used as a disincentive to pass the bills.
However, that outcome is not the case at all. Reform opponents using this tactic also don’t want the public to realize that the MFP formula itself can be utilized within the bounds of their argument to make money follow students instead of schools. All it takes is a rewriting of the formula to segregate out monies that can go to families participating in the program. And such a formula seems likely to come from BESE, where only one knee-jerk opponent exists among its 11 members, and to be approved by the Legislature, whose committee test votes show to date sufficient majorities to approve legislation of this nature.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:20