Acadiana delegation focusing on Common Core, School Board and roads

Common Core education standards, proposals to change local School Board governance and funding for roads and bridges are among the issues Lafayette-area legislators said they will continue to address in the next legislative session.

Six members of the delegation spoke to the Acadiana Press Club on Monday about the session that just ended and some unfinished business that may come up again next year.

Those issues also include payday loans and pay equality for women.

“The biggest success we had was holding the line on our (education) reforms,” state Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, said at the Press Club’s legislative recap session. Attending with Landry were five other legislators: state Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, and Reps. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia; Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette; Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette; and Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro.

Nancy Landry sits on the House Education Committee, which heard hours of testimony on proposed changes to the state’s implementation of the Common Core standards and the state’s participation in related testing known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

Landry said issues opponents of the new Common Core learning standards had over the sharing of student data and perceptions of federal intrusion were addressed during the session. She said efforts to stall implementation of the standards and create a commission to find an alternative failed because the committee didn’t believe either option would benefit Louisiana’s students.

“We felt like what was proposed would have put our kids at a disadvantage,” Landry said.

The House Education Committee will consider any future proposals to replace Common Core standards with the same critical eye, Landry said.

The standards are national learning benchmarks adopted by 40 other states and adopted in Louisiana in 2010, though full implementation of the standards for math, English language arts and writing didn’t begin until the 2013-14 school year. The future of Common Core in the state is undecided as Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he wants Louisiana out of the consortium of states that implemented the standards.

Several local bills proposed by Nancy Landry that related to the creation of a commission to study possible changes to how Lafayette Parish School Board members are elected failed. Landry wanted the community to discuss the viability of other options, such as electing all members from at-large districts or appointing rather than electing members. She said she’ll revisit the proposals next year.

With a $12 billion backlog in roadway and bridge repair work, finding money to address the state’s infrastructure needs will be imperative in next year’s session, Terry Landry said.

The state has a transportation trust fund that directs tax revenues from fuel sales to bridge and road work, but state law also provides that the money may be used to support airports, ports and even State Police traffic control efforts.

“As commander of the State Police, we got $34 million from the fund,” said Landry, a former Louisiana State Police commander.

He said he’d like the House Transportation Committee to study how the trust fund money is being spent and to close those loopholes that allow for the tax revenues to be used on issues other than road and bridge repair and maintenance.

He said he thinks the public may support a tax for road improvements, but they’d want assurances the money would be dedicated for roads and bridges.

“The money’s not going to fall out of the sky. It’s not going to come from the federal government. It’s going to have to come from taxpayers,” Terry Landry said.

Cortez and Nancy Landry said they don’t think a tax would be successful, at least not with their constituents.

“I’d rather see a complete overhaul of our tax structure rather than a new tax,” Nancy Landry said.

Pierre called the failure for legislation that would extend pay equality for female public employees to all female workers a major disappointment of the past session. Current state law requires women who are public employees to be paid the same wages or salaries as their male counterparts.

More unfinished business in his opinion was a lack of restrictions on payday loan businesses. Legislation for a study of payday loan oversight in other states was approved.

Pierre said some financial boons for Acadiana this session include $800,000 for the Acadiana Crime Lab’s operations and nearly $302,000 for the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana. He credited the local delegation for helping to secure the funds in House Bill 1, the state’s operations budget that awaits the governor’s signature.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.