A deserved amount of controversy is generated by the state’s new vouchers for private school tuition, but it is not the only element of state law that changed this year. Significant changes are in store and new demands placed on traditional school systems by education bills championed by Gov. Bobby Jindal in this year’s Legislature.
Parts of the wide-ranging new laws — crammed together as Act 1 and Act 2 of the 2012 Legislature — affect the relationships between school boards and superintendents, giving the latter more untrammeled authority in hiring and firing. Other parts of the package include new alternative course work that might be available online for some students.
And amid all this is the looming implementation of a teacher evaluation system that could provide a significant amount of new work for principals and other supervisors of teachers, as well as paperwork demands. The state, for example, is working to assess whether computer capabilities in local systems are up to the task — for otherwise, the new demands could overwhelm the information technology that cash-strapped public schools can today afford.
All this to say that despite the battles over the vouchers, not to mention expanding charter schools, traditional schools responsible to superintendents and elected boards remain the norm in Louisiana. The state Department of Education, zealous in its advocacy of the Jindal package, nevertheless retains its most significant role in trying to help those systems.
Admittedly, state Superintendent John White may not be the most popular guy for school boards, which are among the folks challenging the constitutionality of the new laws in court. But the local boards and the superintendent are getting some face time, as White is commendably hitting the road to brief boards on the changes. He speaks to the East Baton Rouge Parish board Thursday.
The outreach and a public-relations pitch for “Louisiana Believes,” as the department calls its program, is not going to make the differences between the Jindal agenda and school boards go away. Some of White’s visits have included many questions about vouchers and other hot-button elements of the Jindal program. Nor is yet another reorganization of the state department going to sort out for a while.
But even if court challenges bring down part of the Jindal program or punt the entirety of Acts 1 and 2 back to the Legislature, significant challenges for local systems remain on the table. Those either date from the earlier mandates for teacher evaluation, or other changes that the department can make under existing law.
So we hope that White keeps up his efforts to communicate with the local systems that educate the vast majority of Louisiana students. The local boards may not become believers in the entire Jindal catechism, but the changes are coming — and those that can’t be avoided must be implemented with the interests of students in mind, once the political slogans have faded from the headlines.