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If concerns addressed, LA should pursue school funds

Next week, a few days ahead of the deadline Louisiana will submit its formal application for the so-called “Race to the Top” funds that can give the state hundreds of millions of dollars for educational reforms bent on improving its delivery. Whether the state will win part of that money is one thing; whether it should pursue it is another.

Louisiana stands a good chance of getting a piece of the action because it already has a well-regarded accountability system in place and can demonstrate it has the ability to institute a system of teacher accountability based upon student achievement. The latter comes from the willingness of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, in an unexpected but welcome and astute move, to support the idea which is 27.6 percent of scoring (the other major state teachers union, the Louisiana Association of Educators, has declined to endorse the application). Over 80 percent of districts have pledged participation (which can be revoked until the middle of February) as have a large majority of the state’s charter schools.

However, the Louisiana School Board Association rejected the idea, citing the potential for assuming larger costs after the federal money ran out, of which half would go to and then have to be sustained by districts. This also was related to animosity the group felt towards state education Superintendant Paul Pastorek who supported reduction of political interference of education by boards by introducing term limitation to school board members and removing some personnel decision-making power vested in boards. Such support which will not be forthcoming in Louisiana’s application constitutes 9 percent of the scoring.

But education reformer and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Chas Roemer wisely points out that federal regulations, to this point only cursorily written about the program, could make the entire exercise a waste of money. He notes that unless standards are created that prevent union interference, with its emphasis on job preservation especially for the least capable teachers, with the improvement goals of the program, little if anything will be gained. Such rules from the federal Department of Education are yet forthcoming.

This program seems worthwhile and should be pursued – if the concern noted by Roemer is satisfactorily addressed within the month. If not, the state should withdraw its application and pursue many of the same ideas behind it on its own.

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