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LA chooses wisely to reward performance, not credentials

Wisely, Louisiana continues to shift its philosophy in delivery of elementary and secondary education from assumed ability to actual performance by its abjuring to reimburse districts for teachers certified under a national standard.

Over a decade ago, R.S. 17:426.1 made obligatory the provision of a $5,000 annual bonus for teachers that picked up a certification, using their own resources, from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. It required the expense of local school boards but invited state reimbursement, subject to appropriation. Until fiscal year 2010-11, that was forthcoming.

But as the state’s budget tightened, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Legislature decided not to fund the stipend, thereby passing the cost on to local school districts.
Now the Jindal Administration has announced it plans permanently not to budget for reimbursement because of policy reasons. This deemphasizing also signals the law will be allowed to sunset for new entrants, scheduled now for the beginning of fiscal year 2013-14.

While this has launched uninformed handwringing (for example, editorialists complaining it was the state’s fault that nobody gets the stipend and is discouraging new applicants, even though all who qualify in fact are receiving it from local districts and the sunset date is what is driving the decrease in numbers attempting), it’s a step in the right direction because it shifts rewards away from mere credentialing to measurable results. It matters little whether one receives training and even excels at it; what counts is what product emerges from the performing of the job. Money therefore is spent better on incentives geared towards performance, such as merit pay, than in demonstrating theoretical mastery of craft.

Only during Jindal’s term has education focused at the micro level of the act of teaching and what it accomplishes for students, and state money finds a far more appropriate use there. For too long, the state has assumed credentialing alone denotes performance, instead of measuring real outputs. Unfortunately, those already enjoying the stipend would suffer an unfair cut in salary if the program was stricken legally, so local taxpayers should remain on the hook for an expense of no demonstrated value. But letting the sunset occur while and attrition slowly reduces local costs and the state concentrating funding efforts on performance here on out is the smartest thing policy-makers can do.

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