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Report should spur reduced LA teacher leave

As bad as teacher absences are in Louisiana traditional public schools, it could be worse, data from a recent report show, yet it can become better with enlightened leadership.

It never hurts to state the obvious, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute did just that by comparing absenteeism of Louisiana teachers in traditional compared to charter schools: teachers in traditional schools have a rate almost three times that of those in charter schools. Duh; considering that traditional public school teachers have had a fairly malleable evaluation system where fewer that one in a hundred draw remediation for incompetent performance (although evaluations become more rigorous starting this year), and school districts give off at least ten sick/emergency including two personal days a year, they have every incentive to take all of those days, leaving classrooms in the hands of substitutes largely often without college degrees with districts footing additional costs as a result.

A dozen days are average among the 35 states with significant numbers of charter schools. In Louisiana, the law mandates at least ten sick days with the two days but sick, not personal, days may accumulate. Teachers absent more than five days consecutively must provide documentation of the illness, but days taken here or there they can take one with impunity, up to their banked days.

The U.S. Department of Education defines chronic absenteeism as more than ten days missed. The state’s traditional school teachers hit that mark 27.9 percent of the time in academic year 2013-14, while among charter school teachers only 10 percent did. Charter schools can set their own leave policies, which typically do not allow as much leeway as state law.

Louisiana Federation of Teachers Pres. Larry Carter said the comparative youthfulness of charter school teachers could lead to reduced incidence of illness or less likelihood to have spouses and children in the same situation. But that seems unlikely to explain even a significant part of a nearly 18 percent gap. The gap and absentee rates put Louisiana about in the middle of the surveyed states.

It could be worse. The study suggested that unionism correlated with absenteeism. However, only a few districts and charter operators in Louisiana have union representation. It also noted that the more generous a leave policy, the higher the rate.

The report advises that this issue could become part of required Every Student Succeeds Act plans states must file in the next few months. However, Louisiana went to the head of the line and already filed its approved blueprint, which doesn’t mention teacher absenteeism as part of its section on supporting effective instruction. Admittedly, with leave policy baked into state law, it can do little unilaterally to discourage excessive taking of leave.

That’s something the Legislature can and should do. Neighboring Texas, for example, permits only five personal days annually for teachers, and has lower traditional school teacher absenteeism and its students achieving better learning than do Louisiana’s. Yet this beneficial reform might have to wait, considering Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ history of putting teachers and union desires ahead of educating children better and the veto pen he brandishes. Unfortunately, that lack on enlightenment too often has typified education policy in Louisiana.

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