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Jindal bold education plan mostly deserves enacting

Gov. Bobby Jindal finally began to give some details on his proposed elementary and secondary education overhaul for Louisiana. They reveal a plan as bold as his initiative last year regarding higher education yet even more comprehensive, and also, as the other did, in need of some tweaking.

The most revolutionary change from the often-cautious Jindal consists of a dramatic expansion in the use of public money that could go to private schooling. In essence, it would make a large portion of students, because about 70 percent of all public schools in the state would have their students qualify, to receive money to attend a private school if that is their families’ wishes. Further, this money would be excised from the current pool that pays for public schools.

Jindal argues that this would not be a transfer of total per pupil cost for the public schools transferred to private schools, because private school tuition typically is substantially lower than the nearly $12,000 a year the typical school gets for the typical student from the state or local agencies. This actually could expand money available to public schools if they same overall dollar amount of aid or something near it is kept. However, the savings/additional revenues may be less than the Jindal Administration thinks, for not only is the generally lower private school tuition than public school per pupil payment because of greater efficiency, but also because most private schools have endowments or other forms of support that are relatively fixed. That is, as the number of pupils increase that they serve, the less per pupil the other support will pay for, meaning tuition must rise to compensate to maintain.

Jindal also presented excellent ideas regarding personnel and administration. He addressed empowering administrators acting on the basis of merit over politics such as politicians’ interference and seniority rules that bear no relationship to actual merit and would eliminate across-the-board pay increases. But one aspect regarding this, the role of tenure, needs refining.

He proposed that tenure be granted only after superior performance for five years, rather than the current regime where three years of non-failing in the job earned it. Yet this misses the point of tenure and it applicability to this level of education, misunderstanding that its very presence creates more problems than solutions by retaining it as a kind of reward.

By permitting it after meritorious service, this conceives lifetime tenure, or the right to be fired only after extremely subpar performance that goes beyond actual teaching quality with substantial due process rights retained, as a status to be obtained as a bonus allowing greater freedom of action in job performance. However, that greater freedom really is unnecessary at this level of education. In higher education, where this is no standard curriculum and research and community involvement components are expected among faculty members, which may delve into the political, tenure makes some sense as a protection against firing for reasons not related to cause. But, because teaching effectiveness at lower levels can be so easily measured, what is to be taught does not leave much room for freelancing, and there are no expected research or community service components relative to assessing job performance, tenure is unnecessary. Existing rules regarding non-tenured teachers, based on retention or discharge for cause based upon teaching effectiveness and professionalism, are more than adequate to protect all teachers.

The problem with having tenure as a reward is it could invite abuse, creating the incentive to get it only to be able to slack off eventually as it becomes more burdensome on administrators to fire a tenured teacher. The concept itself simply should not apply at this level of instruction and thereby remove this possibility.

Alter this part of the agenda, the entirety of which also includes making it easier for obtaining charter status, and reformers really are on to something. Whether even the majority of it, however, makes it into law is another matter. These are radical changes and plenty of resistance remains from special interests such as unions and local politicians, which will make for tough sledding in the Legislature. Still, even accomplishment of a portion of it cannot help but improve the lot of children and create greater economic growth potential in the state.

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