House to vote on southeast BR school separation
A plan to set up a new school district in southeast Baton Rouge, which has rocketed through the Legislature, faces a showdown vote in the state House on Thursday.
The two-bill package has passed the Senate Education Committee, the full Senate, the House Education Committee and, for one of the bills, the House Appropriations Committee.
All of that happened in three weeks, which is high speed by legislative standards.
House approval on Thursday would likely pave the way for final approval of the package before the session ends June 4.
“I think we have a very good shot at this,” said Norman Browning, president of Local Schools for Local Children, a community group that is leading support for the new district.
But one of the proposals, House Bill 299, is a constitutional amendment.
That means it requires the support of 70 House members, not the 53-vote majority needed for rank-and-file bills.
In addition, some of the earlier votes have split along party lines, with Republicans generally behind the package, and Democrats making up most of the opposition.
The House has 58 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents, which means GOP backers need the help of Democrats to gather 70 “yes” votes for the constitutional amendment.
However, nearly two dozen of those Democrats may be off the table.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and chairwoman of the 23-member Legislative Black Caucus, is helping to lead opposition to the breakaway district.
Backers contend the change is needed because the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, which is rated “D” by the state, has failed parents and students for years.
Smith, EBR school leaders and other critics argue that the breakaway district would leave the current system in shambles and as one used mostly by black students from poor families.
She said opponents are working hard to ensure that the plan is stopped in the House.
“I think that we will be able to do that,” Smith said.
The package includes the constitutional amendment and Senate Bill 563, which spells out details of the new district and requires 53 “yes” votes for approval.
Both must be approved for the package to move forward.
If the plan is approved by the Legislature, it would be submitted to voters statewide on Nov. 6.
It would require majority approval statewide and in East Baton Rouge Parish to take effect, likely on July 1, 2013.
Both bills won lopsided approval in the Senate on April 25.
The constitutional amendment, which needed 26 votes, passed 29-7.
All of the “no” votes were Democrats. But seven other Democrats voted “yes” on the ballot measure.
The breakdown on Senate Bill 563 was nearly identical on a 30-8 vote.
The two-bill package passed the House Education Committee on May 9 on a 12-6, party-line vote.
Senate Bill 563, which was reviewed for cost issues, cleared the House Appropriations Committee on May 14.
The vote was 11-8, and generally broke along party lines.
Two Democrats voted for the bill. One Republican opposed it.
Browning said backers are contacting House Republicans, Democrats and independents, including members of the Legislative Black Caucus.
“We worked very hard to not make this an “R” and “D” issue,” he said, a reference to party labels.
“This is about the fact the EBR system is just not delivering,” Browning said.
The new district would extend southeast from the Interstate 10/12 split, south of I-12 and east of I-10 to the parish lines.
It would include seven elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school.
About 6,800 students attend the 10 schools now.