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Lawmakers prefer protecting govt than improving schools

Starkly revealed during the debate over Gov. Bobby Jindal’s pilot program to improve schools was the main reason why, despite being a pioneer in school accountability measures over a decade ago, Louisiana students and thus schools remain firmly near the bottom of performance indicators.

Jindal has proposed using $10 million to provide scholarships for Orleans Parish students who recipients could attend a private school as a result. This money is in addition to any funds the Orleans Parish public schools would receive under the state’s method of financing school districts, the Minimum Foundation Program – although that pot of money is much lower than historic norms for the district because most Orleans schools, for reasons of abysmal performance and/or disruptions from natural disasters, have been removed from local jurisdiction and are run separately either indirectly as charter schools or directly by the state itself in its Recovery School District.

But Sen. Yvonne Dorsey got testy when she objected to the Jindal Administration calling the money set aside as independent of the MFP. In committee hearings she pointed out that one component of the MFP funding formula was based upon a per-pupil measure. Therefore, if the new program enticed students out of the Orleans system, the following year funds to Orleans schools would be reduced proportionately. Thus, she called the idea that the program would not take money from the MFP disingenuous and tried to argue it would harm public education on that basis.

Of course, it really is Dorsey and those who think like her who are being disingenuous on this issue because they are trying to change the terms of debate. Dorsey, it appears, is more interested in making sure a failing educational unit gets money for students it wouldn’t be teaching than to improve the lot of students. If she really cared about education, she would want to allocate money on the basis of how best it will serve the students, not on how it will affect a government agency.

And this illustrates all too well the sad state of Louisiana education: too many politicians prefer to focus on how to protect public education institutions and their employees rather than improve elementary and secondary education as a whole. It’s why the greatest impediment to improving education in the state, individual teacher accountability measures including assessment of knowledge, not only remains unimplemented, but undebated. It’s why solutions that would improve education as a whole, if they do not use the existing institutions, are derided by out-of-touch lawmakers.

As the process unfolds, we’ll see how this measure does. With an influx of new legislators this term, there’s hope they’ll think beyond the old attitudes that have kept education in this state inferior and support this very modest policy change which will improve public schools anyway through competition.

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