Education plans could create a volatile mix in legislative session

While Common Core is expected to dominate legislative education debates, battles are shaping up on teacher tenure, educator job evaluations and an overhaul of Louisiana’s public-school leadership.

The session, which begins Monday, March 10, is expected to feature passionate arguments on whether to revamp or repeal Common Core, the national academic standards that Louisiana and 44 other states have adopted.

Other hot-button issues are looming during the nearly three-month gathering, including renewed argument on key parts of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sweeping education overhaul that won approval in 2012.

One proposal, Senate Bill 94, would make it easier for teachers to earn a form of job security called tenure less than two years after those rules were tightened.

Another measure, House Bill 306, would allow some teachers rated as ineffective last school year to get a pay raise this year.

Others would require the state superintendent of education to be elected rather than named by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, with the governor’s blessing.

Several proposals to suspend the always controversial letter grades for public schools for two years including House Bill 423 also are sure to spark controversy.

However, several bills would reopen debate on some of the most contested parts of Jindal’s education overhaul that won approval in 2012 and 2010.

State Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, wants to lessen requirements that lawmakers approved in 2012 that require teachers to be rated as highly effective for five out of six years to earn tenure.

Gallot wants tenure awarded if teachers get the top job evaluation for three consecutive years.

In addition, his bill would only remove tenure for teachers rated as ineffective for two consecutive years, not just once, as the law dictates.

“This comes from the standpoint of teachers who are actually expected to live with these policies, drastic policy changes,” Gallot said. “This has more of the classroom perspective in mind.”

Backers said the new tenure rules will improve student achievement by boosting teacher quality, which they say suffered for years from cursory job reviews in which virtually every teacher in the state landed a satisfactory rating.

In another area, the sponsor of the 2010 state law that revamped teacher evaluations wants to allow some teachers rated as ineffective last year to retain their eligibility for salary increases.

Teachers got new performance ratings for the first time after the 2012-13 school year.

State law says those rated as ineffective they totaled 4 percent of those reviewed last year cannot be paid more the following school year.

State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, has filed a bill that would allow such pay raises if the teacher was rated as ineffective only on the student achievement portion of the annual review.

Hoffmann said the state has shelved the requirement that student achievement be part of the evaluations for two years during the move to Common Core.

He said part of the job review needs fine-tuning, which he hopes to accomplish with a separate measure House Bill 415 that would resurrect an earlier panel to review the evaluation system.

“It is still a work in progress,” Hoffmann said of the teacher job checks.

State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, is one of several legislators who want to let voters decide whether the state superintendent of education should be elected.

Geymann, a critic of Common Core, said parents want a bigger say in public school issues.

“The parents out there who want to have input in education decisions and try to correct what they think is wrong have no voice,” he said.

The proposal is House Bill 273.

Geymann said he also will push a bill that would require all 11 BESE members be elected by voters.

Under existing rules, eight are elected and three are named by the governor.

BESE sets policies for about 700,000 public school students statewide.

State Reps. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, and Joe Harrision, R-Napoleonville, want the state to shelve letter grades for public schools during the transition to Common Core.

Smith said the state is delaying other accountabilty measures for two years.

“Because there are so many different versions of the curriculum right now, I believe it is a disservice to the school district to put a letter grade before we know how these things are going to work,” she said.

Smith’s proposal is House Bill 423. Harrison’s is House Bill 359.

Both would impose a moratorium on the grades for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

A similar bid failed at BESE in December.