Education Reform Sure Is A Hot Topic These Days

Anyone who thinks Gov. Bobby Jindal is going to sit still while critics attack his education reform plan had better guess again. The governor and his troops are loaded for bear and quick on the trigger whenever dissent surfaces.

The state’s two major teacher unions fired salvos at Jindal Monday. They attacked his efforts to change teacher tenure and expand a school voucher program that would give state funding to students in lowperforming schools to help them attend private and parochial schools. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators represent about 41,000 teachers in the state.

Dr. Michael Walker-Jones, executive director of the LAE, really got Jindal’s dander up when he said parents might not have the time or information to make a decision about their child’s education.

“If I’m a parent in poverty, I have no clue because I’m trying to struggle and live day-to-day,” Walker-Jones said.

Jindal spared no words in his response to that quote, saying “an education union leader sunk to a new low … .”

“The union leader’s comments are just the type of top-down, arrogant, elitist mentality that has badly damaged our system of public education in this country,” the governor said in an email to supporters. “I believe that parents — regardless of their income or circumstances — know what’s best for their children. It’s ridiculous and insulting to say that parents can’t make decisions in the best interest of their children.”

Jindal had lunch with parents at the governor’s mansion Tuesday, and mothers attending bolstered the defense of his program. The meeting was organized by Eric B. Lewis, state director of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

The women talked with Jindal about large class sizes and the absence of special education instruction in public schools, according to newspaper reports about the meeting.

Shantell Reed said, “I make choices for my children every day. I’m their mother. No one knows better than me.”

Newspaper editorial writers are also getting rapid responses to anything critical being said about Jindal’s education reform program. The American Press in an editorial talked about the potential for school vouchers siphoning money from public schools and making them second-rate.

Aaron Baer, deputy director of communications for the governor, fired off a response that was forwarded to state legislators and others.

“Today’s Lake Charles American Press editorial creates a fake scenario where the result of Gov. Jindal’s education reforms is a system of haves and have-nots,” Baer said. “This is a false claim that ignores the current inequality in our education system and a slap in the face to parents with kids trapped in failing schools who don’t have the means or the options to give their kids a chance.”

Baer said the governor’s reforms also include changes that will make it possible for existing public schools to have more flexibility when hiring and paying teachers that will allow them to recruit, retain and reward highly effective teachers.

Give the administration credit for clever ways to attack the opposition, calling it guilty of “inciting fear and distorting Gov. Jindal’s reform plan…”

Consider, for example what it says when teacher unions insist the governor hasn’t funneled enough money into the public education system.

“Today, the state of Louisiana is wasting nearly a billion dollars on failing public schools,” Baer said.

“The Coalition for the Status Quo will always say we just need more time or more money, but Louisiana doesn’t have time or money to waste on the failed strategies of the past.

“In Louisiana, it’s clear that more money does not equate to better results. Fully 70 percent of school districts in Louisiana with the lowest per-pupil spending have letter grades of Bs and Cs while just 40 percent of the 10 districts with the highest perpupil spending do … .”

Critics of Jindal’s education reform efforts aren’t going to relax their opposition, but the tide of public opinion is clearly on the governor’s side. The emergence and popularity of charter schools are clear indicators that most parents want better educational opportunities for their children.

We saw parents flock to the first charter school that opened in Calcasieu, a parish that has a good public education system. So, if Jindal’s reforms can give public schools better opportunities for improving their performance so they can compete with charters, legislators will be hard-pressed not to follow the governor’s lead.

I can’t remember a time in recent Louisiana history when a governor has put so much effort into education reform. And like it or not, it’s coming. Jindal has laid all the necessary groundwork to get it done.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than ÿve decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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