Legislative session opens; Jindal to speak at 1 p.m.

The 2014 session of the Louisiana Legislature convened at noon with lawmakers expected to take up a range issues from medial marijuana to educational standards before the session ends by 6 p.m. June.

As the first day gets going, Gov. Bobby Jindal will speaks to a joint session at 1 p.m.

Already, seven bills have been filed that would change penalties for simple possession of marijuana and to expand the use the drug for medical purposes.

Education will likely be a big issue also.

After months of rallies, skirmishing and bickering, the volatile issue of the Common Core academic standards is set for a showdown in the Louisiana Legislature.

Dozens of bills are expected around the issue, and the outcome will determine what students from kindergarten through 12th grade will be taught for the 2014-15 school year and beyond.

Backers say the standards will better prepare students for college and careers by requiring more stringent courses and will allow for state-by-state comparisons on student achievement.

“It does promote the idea that we no longer just compete with ourselves for jobs,” said Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“Our students will need to compete with students around the country and around the world,” said Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge.

Opponents say Common Core has ignited anger in the public in a way rarely seen in the Legislature.

“They just don’t like it,” said state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles and a leader of the anti-Common Core drive. “And they are coming 100 miles per hour in wanting us to get rid of this.”

The 2014 regular legislative session begins at noon Monday.Adjournment is set for June 2.

More than a dozen bills on the academic goals have already been filed in the House.

They include measures to shelve Common Core, phase it in, scrap the national test that goes with it and add new privacy to student data that critics say the overhaul is endangering.

State Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who wants to scrap Common Core, said the sheer volume of the opposition is significant.

“Just by the number of bills that have been filed and by the significant push by parents throughout the state, it almost demands that we make some movement in getting parents more comfortable with these standards,” Henry said.

Common Core is a set of standards in reading, writing and math that Louisiana and 44 other states have adopted.

Specific topics are spelled out year by year, with state and local school districts left to hammer out the curriculum on how to meet those goals.

Students here and in 17 other states will then be quizzed next spring on a test called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which is one of two testing consortiums that states have adopted.

Most of the other states are in a separate consortium.

The standards were adopted by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2010 without fanfare, and BESE reiterated its support earlier this year.

However, controversy has been bubbling for months at special legislative hearings, BESE and local school boards, especially in southeast Louisiana.

Critics say Common Core is being forced on local schools by the Obama administration, that the standards are unproven and that it is being pushed on students by big companies looking for profits.

Geymann says one concern tops the rest.

“The one thing that I think crosses all these lines is the loss of local control,” he said. “I think we can all come to the table on that.”

Geymann has filed a proposal — House Bill 381 — that would set up a commission of teacher union leaders, principals, superintendents, classroom teachers and others to draft new academic standards.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, a top backer of Common Core, disagrees.

He said Georgia considered doing something similar but dropped the plan amid concerns about a price tag of $100 million or more.

Appel said Common Core will benefit students.

“This appears to be an avenue we can take to say that Louisiana kids can learn just as well as kids in North Carolina and Ohio and wherever else around the country,” he said.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, a member of the House Education Committee, says the standards will offer valuable snapshots on what students know.

“I hear from parents that go to other states and their children are sometimes two years behind,” said Smith, a former member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.

“We need to be competitive globally,” she said.

Yet Smith and others contend the rollout of Common Core has caused problems.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said his group was one of the first to back tougher academic standards.

Richard said an initial curriculum was promised by state education leaders, which caused local school districts to back off.

He said that changed in 2012, when local school districts were given the responsibility.

“Now that has made another 360, and we are back working with the department,” Richard said.

Richard said those and other glitches “have really caused a lot of anxiety for our teachers.”