Superintendents say teachers still teaching Common Core

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s attempt to slam the brakes on Common Core state standards, along with the court challenges to that move, haven’t changed what students are learning in Acadiana classrooms, six school superintendents said Monday.

Teachers are moving forward with lessons aligned to the new learning standards that were fully implemented in the last school year, the school leaders told an Acadiana Press Club forum.

“It hasn’t affected us from an instructional standpoint,” Iberia Parish Schools Superintendent Dale Henderson said. “The issue is the assessment that will be given in the spring.”

But because of the conflict, exactly which high-stakes test will be given to students in the spring remains unknown, a major concern for teachers, Henderson said.

Jindal’s opposition to Common Core extends to state testing, trying to block the state Department of Education from moving forward with plans to buy a standardized test linked to the standards. The governor has used his executive power to block the department, whose leadership remains in favor of Common Core, from spending more than $2,000 without administrative approval.

The matter is now a legal battle in Baton Rouge, featuring three separate lawsuits. On Friday, a district judge refused to grant a preliminary injunction requested by 17 legislators who sought to stop the continued implementation of the standards. Parents who filed a lawsuit in support of the standards were in court on Monday.

Five other superintendents from the Acadiana area participated in the discussion, including Pat Cooper, of Lafayette Parish; Jerome Puyau, of Vermilion Parish; Lottie Beebe, of St. Martin Parish; Brian LeJeune, of Jefferson Davis Parish; and John Bourque, of Acadia Parish.

At one point, the conversation steered toward charter schools and the Iberville Parish School Board’s recent decision to file a lawsuit against BESE challenging the use of state per-pupil funding to fund Type 2 charter schools.

Kathleen Espinoza, an announced candidate for the Lafayette Parish School Board, asked the superintendents whether they’d encourage their school boards to join Iberville Parish in its challenge, which is targeted at a charter school recently opened by Charter Schools USA, a for-profit school management company. Espinoza is also a member of Power of Public Education Lafayette, a nonprofit group opposed to the involvement of for-profit companies in public education.

Last week, three charter schools managed by two different for-profit charter management companies opened in Lafayette Parish, including two opened by Charter Schools USA. The three schools enrolled a total of about 1,300 students and as Type 2 charter schools may enroll students from anywhere in the state. While the majority of their students are from Lafayette Parish, the schools also enrolled students from neighboring Acadiana parishes.

Beebe told Espinoza that she thinks “interest is there” in learning more about the lawsuit, but didn’t offer more details. Beebe is also a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Cooper said any decision would be up to the local school board. Cooper supported the three Lafayette Parish charter schools’ applications. Though the Lafayette Parish School Board rejected the schools, they later were approved by BESE.

Other superintendents questioned the loss of local funding that follows students across parish lines and criticized the way the state calculates how much money the charter schools receive. The kind of charter schools targeted in the Iberville lawsuit are eligible for both local and state tax revenues. The amount of funding the schools are eligible to receive is based on enrollment; however, those numbers are often inaccurate, Puyau said.

Puyau said his district was notified that 30 students would enroll in the new charter schools, but only eight have actually transferred to a charter school.

LeJeune also criticized the method that charter school student enrollment is calculated because the burden of proving students didn’t leave the school system to enroll in a charter school is placed on the school system — rather than the charter school that is receiving the money.

Nathan Norris, CEO of the Downtown Development Authority, asked the superintendents what improvements or changes they would make in their districts if they could exchange red tape for a magic wand.

Cooper, Puyau and LeJeune agreed they’d like to see classes for 4-year-olds included in the calculation of the state’s per pupil funding formula. The addition would boost preschool funding for districts and help prepare more young students for kindergarten.

When it was Henderson’s turn, he jokingly asked Norris for clarification, “Was that magic wand to get rid of people or policy?”

As the panel and crowd laughed, Puyau quickly moved his hand over Henderson’s mouth to prevent his colleague from inserting his foot.

The superintendents closed the forum with discussion of their common goal to boost student achievement in the coming school year. Cooper had an added goal that was likely part-joke and part-truth — that Acadiana Open Channel would lose viewership on the first and third Wednesday nights when it provides a live broadcast of the School Board meetings. While school board meetings in most other districts could be described as staid, the past 20 months of Lafayette Parish School Board meetings often have made for raucous reality TV watching.

In addition to Espinoza, at least three other announced contenders for the School Board attended the forum: Justin Centanni, who is vying for the same District 6 seat as Espinoza, and incumbents Shelton Cobb and Kermit Bouillion. Qualifying for the Nov. 4 School Board election begins Wednesday and ends Friday.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.