From The Education Committee, So Far

Nothing much has happened so far; it’s a lot of speechifying – first from Gov. Bobby Jindal, then from members of the BESE board, the business community and a few policy wonks on the proponent side of Jindal’s education package, and now a collection of teachers.

There really isn’t anything new being brought out today. Proponents say the current system has produced hideous results, that choice and competition will produce better results, that parents can do better than bureaucrats at picking schools and that we can’t wait any longer to undertake reform of education because kids in failing schools need a rescue immediately.

Opponents have a number of gripes about the package, say that charter schools don’t really work (although they’re not uniform in that), say that reform won’t make anything better and only money will do that. And one after another have griped about how they’ve been herded like cattle in the hot sun, though none of them seem to have a solution for how you’re going to fit 2,000 people in a hearing room.

We’re also getting lots of moaning about how everybody’s mind is made up and why can’t we compromise. The answer, obviously, is that we had an election last fall, this stuff was very prominent as an electoral issue, and the educational establishment didn’t just lose but got slaughtered. Now it’s a lot of whining.

The real highlight of the hearing so far has been the motion made by Rep. Nancy Landry (R-Lafayette) to ask the witnesses against the bill to say where they came from and how they came to the Capitol – specifically, whether, if they’re teachers, they were given a day off or took a personal day. That set off the Democrats on the committee, most specifically Rep. Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge), who called that an “atrocity.” The response to those accusations of abuse of the teachers (and Smith has gone on and on about it all morning) is that because there are so many witnesses testifying the committee suspended its normal practice of asking questions of each witness, and that’s a question that would be asked of every teacher who showed up anyway.

John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) brought up a motion after a few opponents began to testify to suspend the rule on ID’ing how they managed to make it to the hearing, and it failed on a 10-8 vote more or less along party lines. Smith didn’t like that one bit, and got a bit ugly about it.

The one witness who did get asked questions so far was Jindal, and it was Edwards who had the most substantive question. He accused the governor of robbing local school boards of locally-generated funding and using that money to bankroll private schools, which he said was unconstitutional. Jindal’s answer is that failing schools already violate students’ constitutional right to an education, which is a decent sound bite but the real answer he might have offered was that money from the minimum foundation program (MFP) that will be redirected to vouchers is state, not local, money.

On the whole, this part is lacking in fireworks – but the question-and-answer period hasn’t started. And that’s going to be the good part.

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