That’s the only inference you can really take from yesterday’s BESE runoff elections, in which education reform proponents swept all three races.
The Coalition for Public Education, an amalgamation of teachers’ unions and lobby groups representing school boards, school administrators and other members of Louisiana’s educational establishment, backed incumbent Louella Givens in New Orleans and Jimmy Guillory and Donald Songy in the two Baton Rouge-area districts. All three were clobbered yesterday.
Givens, whose campaign was one of the worst examples of dealing the race card from the bottom of the deck – she had ridiculous far-left operative Tracie Washington file a lawsuit essentially challenging the racial authenticity of challenger, Teach For America leader and reform advocate Kira Orange Jones, among other things – got just 43 percent of the vote. It was an unmistakable public referendum on the transition to a charter-based school system in New Orleans – even in Orleans Parish, where Givens’ strength as an incumbent lay and where racially-based attack politics has its best chance of success, Orange Jones picked up 49 percent of the vote.
In Orleans, the people have truly spoken. Three times this fall BESE candidates who were explicitly either pro-reform or directly tied to the educational establishment have faced voters in that parish – Orange Jones and Givens on both Oct. 22 and Saturday, and incumbent Jim Garvey, who beat two union-affiliated opponents in District 1 on Oct. 22. Reform advocates picked up a combined 59,692 votes, or 57.7 percent, while anti-reform candidates received just 43,837 votes, or 42.3 percent.
57.7 to 42.3 is a landslide. It’s not as if voters weren’t fully aware of what was at stake, either. People in Orleans Parish are no longer interested in running a Soviet-style command system of education. They want the market to take over. They’ve seen a taste of that with the charter schools in operation already, and they think it’s a better system to have schools competing for students and students competing for spots in schools.
But it’s a silent majority. Most of the comments at the Times-Picayune article covering Orange Jones’ victory over Givens are typically vile and representative of the apocalyptic mentality the Left and the educational establishment displays at the idea of the free market taking hold in the state’s K-12 schools…
“So Bobby Jindal gets another puppet on the BESE board. Anyone who thinks that Bobby Jindal, Michael Bloomberg et al give a rat’s patootie about the education of low income children of color is naive. Instead, under the guise of “reform” they see an opportunity to deprofessionalize K-12 education by replacing professional teachers with part timers and temp workers, while steering lucrative contracts to their ideological cronies.”
“Public education in louisiana is about to come to an end. Parents and caregivers will now be sending their children to charter schools. And as the fed education dollars dry up new funding sources will need to be found by charter operators. When the grant of the month dries up, charters will have to turn to parents to provide “fees” to keep their child in a “good” charter. If they do not pay, their child will be forced to go to one of the “underperforming” schools that do not charge as much………..In any event, the poor will pay for the rich……..again……..Congrats louisiana……….Dummies……….”
“There is no doubt that Ms. Jones works for Governor Jindal. That will be borne out in the months to come. Taxpayers, parents, educators and our children will pay dearly as BESE waives its own policies to elect an unqualified superintendent, Governor Jindal leads the legislature by the nose to pass laws that will further squeeze district budgets and punish teachers both current and retired, and as Charter management companies fill their pockets with profits until the money is drained. What the people of New Orleans saw in pre-Katrina New Orleans education pales in comparison to the theft of public monies and education opportunities and the corruption that will unfold in the post-Katrina RSD.”
The establishment did no better in the two districts centered in Baton Rouge. The most outspoken challenger of the current system, Chas Roemer, drew a bullseye on his chest from the establishment; Roemer was challenged not just by Democrat Donald Songy but also by Republican Beth Meyers in the primary. Both candidates came from an establishment background, and both ran vigorous campaigns against Roemer’s platform of school choice and the abolition of teacher tenure. The opposition caught Roemer by surprise and he didn’t really get his campaign cranked up until the runoff, which came about after Roemer only managed 45 percent of the vote against Songy’s 29 and Meyers’ 27.
And in the runoff, Roemer faced the establishment in two parishes which have actually managed to avoid becoming abject failures in K-12 education. The Livingston Parish News endorsed Songy…
The BESE board, which establishes public education policy and devises the state funding formula for schools, is about the be taken over by forces hostile to the very existence of public education as we know it. These forces want to reinvent that system, to “privatize” it, promising that diverting taxpayer resources away from community schools will somehow make them better. Our governor supports this notion and will pursue it unless voters in parishes like Livingston send him a message Saturday. We want to tell him to rethink the impact this version of “reform” will have on working, functioning public schools in communities like ours. Whether or not this “grand experiment” can improve failing inner-city schools, it threatens to kill suburban schools like ours by siphoning away the funds required to educate the vast majority of our children. Electing Donald Songy would be a wake up call for everyone to slow down rather than railroad these changes upon us.
Roemer, who beat Songy 57-43, won Livingston by a 54-46 count despite the fact that parish’s public schools are some of the best in the state. In Ascension, where Songy was the superintendent of schools and was largely seen as successful, Roemer still managed 43 percent. And in East Baton Rouge, Roemer crushed Songy 66-34.
The dynamics here aren’t difficult to understand. Most voters in Ascension and Livingston are suburbanites who live in those parishes because of the failed school system in East Baton Rouge. Many of them appreciate that Livingston and Ascension actually deliver acceptable public schools, but that doesn’t change their recognition that the Baton Rouge area has to have major improvement in educational performance if the area is to grow. And that improvement will not come without a change in direction. Those voters also recognize that people of means in East Baton Rouge have abandoned the failed public school system in that parish just like they have, only the rich folks did it by enrolling their kids in private schools.
The upshot for those suburbanites is that regardless of the success of Ascension and Livingston schools, they’re looking for more educational choice – not just for them, but for everybody. Roemer offers it, Songy doesn’t.
Tangipahoa Parish is also represented in BESE District 6. Roemer carried 63 percent of the vote in Tangipahoa, whose public schools are both unsuccessful and unpopular – a school-tax measure offered in May as part of a court-ordered plan to desegregate the parish’s schools went down to an ignominious defeat.
In BESE District 8, the establishment’s candidate was Jimmy Guillory, a white independent from Plaucheville who owns a cattle ranch and calls himself a semi-retired audiologist. Guillory was at a demographic disadvantage against Carolyn Hill, a black Democrat social worker from Baton Rouge, in a district that is 58 percent black. And Hill’s percentage of the vote was 58 percent to Guillory’s 42, suggesting that the District 8 race was far more about race than the school choice issue.
That said, Guillory was an unquestionable defender of the status quo in education against the school-choice reforms being pioneered in New Orleans. And Hill was the candidate of school choice in the race, though she wasn’t as outspoken in that advocacy as Orange Jones or Roemer.
The upshot is that education reform, starting with the appointment of New Orleans Recovery School District head and Teach For America disciple John White as the state’s new superintendent of education, needed eight seats on the 13-member BESE board. It now has nine – the three seats appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, plus three seats claimed in the primary (Garvey, Holly Boffy in District 7 and Jay Guillot in District 5) and now Hill, Roemer and Orange Jones.
And that means we’re going to embark on a large-scale experiment in Louisiana, perhaps culminating in a true free-market system of K-12 education whereby funding follows students to the schools parents choose. School board members, school administrators and most of all teachers’ unions will unite in an attempt to defeat this experiment, because it threatens to destroy their control of Louisiana’s schools.
But the establishment is at a major disadvantage at this point. Because the people have spoken. And the clear message arising from both the Oct. 22 primary and Saturday’s runoff is that voters don’t what to preserve the current system. They want to try something new. And the numbers indicate that running against union power in Louisiana is a winner. The influence of the establishment in statewide politics is at an all-time low. Should a free market in education arise, that establishment might be wiped out entirely within a decade.