(UPDATED) Today Is Judgement Day For Education Reform

UPDATE (9:40 p.m.) – Don’t know whether this was just sloppy or intentionally deceptive. But Bill Barrow’s piece just posted at the Times-Picayune contains a peculiar paragraph…

As in the House, the Senate votes mostly tracked party lines. Also reflecting their House colleagues, the exceptions generally tracked with a lawmaker’s leadership status: Most Democrats who voted with the governor have leadership posts, while most Republicans who defected do not.

That ain’t true at all. There are 15 Democrats in the Senate, and seven of them voted in favor of the bill. And seven of the 24 Republicans voted against it.

How that’s a party-line vote, we can’t say. When just about half the Democrats vote the other way, it’s not party-line at all. And seven of 24 Republicans, which is 29 percent, voted against a Republican governor. That’s almost a revolt.

The guess here is Barrow had written that graph long before the final vote and he didn’t check it, which means it’s quite likely to get scrubbed sometime tonight before the T-P goes to press. Worth watching.

Barrow’s piece also says the House is getting the bills in the morning, which we think might well be right since the video from the House chamber isn’t streaming (and that would indicate they’ve knocked off for the night).

UPDATE (9:15 p.m.) – Here’s the final vote:

YEAS (Democrats in bold):

Mr. President Alario
Smith, G.

NAYS (Republicans in bold):
Smith, J.

The same seven Republicans who voted against the teacher tenure bill voted against school choice. That would indicate the governor might have some punishment to lay down if he wants to, and it’ll be worth watching for the rest of the session to see how that’s handled.

But those seven were offset by seven Democrats who came over on the bill, and school choice picked up J.P. Morrell (D-New Orleans) from the teacher tenure vote. Morrell knows the value of a private education, having gone to college at Spring Hill and Tulane for law school; he’s also the product of private schools in New Orleans and while he’s not a complete evangelist for school choice he is at least favorable toward John White’s leadership of the RSD when he was there and didn’t oppose the concept of charters and vouchers.

This vote was a smart move for Morrell, who’s considered by some to be a potential rising star in New Orleans politics and might end up mayor one day. He’s just 33 years old and he’s got some political bloodlines in the city – J.P.’s parents are Arthur Morrell, the Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal Court, and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, the New Orleans City Councilmember for District D. Making this vote will give him some cred with the business community and the 10 percent of Orleans Parish who are actually Republican, and that could position him quite well for a mayoral run when that job comes open in six years.

UPDATE (9:05 p.m.) – The bill passes, 24-15. It got one more vote than the teacher tenure bill got. There’s lots of grumbling and murmuring from the gallery; we’ll take that to mean the union folks ain’t happy.

We’re hearing from a contact who’s in the House gallery, and he says the House has been waiting half the night for these bills to get there so they can concur on the amendments and send the bills to Jindal’s desk tonight. We’ll find out if that’s actually the case in a little while.

UPDATE (8:50 p.m.) – We’re now finally past all the amendments, and nothing of substance happened in that long session – though Karen Carter Peterson and Ben Nevers did a sensational skit impersonating a dialogue between Joyce Haynes and Steve Monaghan a while back.

Wait, that wasn’t a skit? Oh. Sorry.

The vote is coming soon. Peterson is now berating her fellow senators on the basis that private schools might not be better than the failing public schools kids will be escaping. She says it’s hypocrisy and disrespect for professionals, and it’s “profound.” It’s quite theatrical, but it’s not exactly a new argument.

UPDATE (7:30 p.m.) – Ugh. There are 15 amendments left to go before they can close the debate on the bill.

There were 16, but Sen. Ed Murray (D-New Orleans) pulled one. Applause was heard in the chamber.

This will go on all night.

UPDATE (7:10 p.m.) – The Democrats are offering up amendment after amendment at this point, and they’re all getting killed.

We’re going to have some great video later from Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton), who gave a fantastic speech on this business of local tax dollars being stolen to fund charters and vouchers due to the school choice bill directing money from the state Minimum Foundation Program. Adley, who was speaking in opposition to an amendment from Sen. Eric Lafleur (D-Ville Platte) which would have changed the funding mechanics in the bill, passionately demonstrated that MFP money is state money and it’s a major mistake to let local governments believe it’s anything but that.

We’ll probably have that up tomorrow.

From the sound of this, we’re nowhere close to a vote yet.

UPDATE (6:35 p.m.) – Nothing much new is happening. They’re still in amendments on the school-choice bill, though one by one they’re getting whacked. And the votes aren’t close, which is interesting since it’s expected that the vote on the final bill will be close.

Meanwhile, our buddy Kevin Mooney from the Pelican Post has a piece up at the American Spectator on the Senate’s vote. Mooney got a great quote from Conrad Appel about the school choice plan.

Sen. Conrad Appel, the Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee, cautions against thinking the voucher proposal will initially impact a substantial number of students. But he is hopeful the program can grow over time as more seats become available.

“When you compare the voucher proposal with the legislation that could be used to open more charter schools, the modifications to teacher accountability, and the [re-defined] relationship between school boards, superintendents and principals, we are talking about a very small change,” Appel said. “I think the voucher concept is very valid, and it does create opportunities for certain families, but in practice what we are talking about is not as far reaching as the other proposals that are part of the education reform package.”

UPDATE (5:20 p.m.) – Atrocious picture of the day…

This from a group of unionized teachers who want to deny the right of kids to attend a school that won’t destroy their future. Can we call using that poor kid as a prop child abuse, or is that going too far?

And here’s another question – does that kid go to private school, or public school? Consider the irony if it’s the former.

They’re going into amendments now on HB 976.

UPDATE (5:00 p.m.) – More questions, and it’s getting boring.

Karen Carter Peterson is badgering Appel about how come there’s no guarantee in the school choice bill that the schools parents opt for with a voucher be better than the ones they’re leaving. Why that’s even remotely worthy of discussion is a good question.

Peterson is also now trying to get Appel to admit that charter schools in New Orleans are failing since so many of them are still rated D and F – without recognizing that while that’s true, in six years the proficiency improvements between public school kids in New Orleans on the average in 2005 and now have been significant. She’s asking why the state should “permit” parents to make a choice for a school that doesn’t have a better rating than where they’re leaving from.

Somewhere there’s a Scotsman crying out with his last breath.

Appel’s been getting these questions for two hours and he’s had just about enough.

UPDATE (4:15 p.m.) – Appel is still getting questions, this time from Sen. Ed Murray (D-New Orleans), about various issues – most notably at this point about what charter schools do with the money they’d get from this plan.

Meanwhile, the word is that HB 974, which did get an amendment earlier this afternoon, will go to the House tonight where it will pass. That bill is very likely to get a signing ceremony by the end of the week.

The legislature’s official vote tally on HB 974 is pretty interesting, because this was not a party-line vote at all. In fact, the bill pulled no less than six Democrats in support – Troy Brown (D-Napoleonville), Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas), David Heitmeier (D-New Orleans), Gary Smith (D-Norco), Greg Tarver (D-Shreveport) and Rick Ward (D-Port Allen). Those Dems crossing the aisle offset the Republicans who flew the coop – Dale Erdey (R-Livingston), Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles), Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe), Fred Mills (R-Parks), Blade Morrish (R-Jennings), Jonathan Perry (R-Kaplan) and John Smith (R-Leesville).

It’s unlikely that breakdown will hold up when HB 976 is voted on. The Republicans who voted against the teacher tenure bill and follow that up with a “no” vote on the school choice bill are going to be in for a very rough next four years at the Capitol.

UPDATE (3:30 p.m.) – They’re now working on HB 976, the school choice bill, and Sen. Conrad Appel, who authored the Senate version and is the sponsor of the House bill that has made it across the building, is taking questions from the Democrats.

Karen Carter Peterson gave him what-for. Now Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb is doing it. She asked him whether he knows she has lots of D and F schools in her district and now she’s asking how this bill helps “Willie.” “Willie” is a kid from a dysfunctional family who’s on his way to juvenile detention. Appel says the bill won’t help Willie, but it might help his kids.

This will likely be a good video clip to show tomorrow.

UPDATE (3:00 p.m.) – HB 974, the teacher tenure bill, just passed on a 23-16 vote.

UPDATE (2:40 p.m.) – They’re still quibbling over amendments which aren’t likely to pass. Oh, wait, one just did. It was a technical, rather than substantive, change.

Meanwhile, those teacher-driven recall efforts aren’t backed by the unions at all – forget about what you read in the 12:18 p.m. update in which the LFT printed up a bunch of stuff with Total Recall 2012 on it. Nope. We know this because yesterday they told the Washington Times they had nothing to do with it.

Thus far, the state’s two largest teachers unions — the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) — have not formally signed on to the effort, which was started by a Calcasieu Parish instructor who has described herself as “fed up” with the governor’s proposals.

“I think this is something organic filtering up from the grass roots,” LFTspokesman Les Landon said. “There is a lot of anger out there over what this governor is doing.”


UPDATE (2:14 p.m.) – The Senate is now working on HB 974, the teacher tenure bill, and they’ve been debating that one since about 1:30.

At present they’re looking at amendments. None have passed to date. The only item of interest so far was when Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans), who is rapidly emerging as the Senate version of Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) from the House debate of a couple weeks ago, attempted to get Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) to agree that private school teachers ought to submit to the state teacher evaluation program.

Appel looked irritated and responded that private school teachers get evaluated by private schools and it’s not the state’s business.

One might be forgiven for concluding that some of the opponents of this package have given up on the idea that they can beat it in a straight-up vote and instead are trying to feed it every poison pill they can. Mindful of that it seems the majority aren’t going to vote for any amendments at all.

Meanwhile, the gallery is full of teachers, and murmuring can be heard often.

UPDATE (12:18 p.m.) – The teachers are camped out at the state capitol, and the union bosses have obviously been watching Schwarzenegger movies.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers, whose president Steve Monaghan pigeonholed Tom earlier and bawled him out for a cartoon we ran making fun of how much control he’s got over leges like Rep. John Bel Edwards (apparently some of the other folks in the LFT office got hold of that cartoon, printed it out and circulated it behind his back and he didn’t like that), are calling this protest on their part “Total Recall 2012: We Will Not Forget.” They’re actually bragging about the recall effort they’ve kicked off against Gov. Jindal and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, as though it had any chance of succeeding.

Oscar beat them to the punch on that earlier this week. Maybe they didn’t see it.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Association of Educators have a different theme. Theirs is “Judgement Day,” which they apparently beat us to the punch on considering the title of this post. Except that given the expected outcome, Judgement Day doesn’t seem particularly optimistic.

Most of our readers would agree that the union bosses are all wet, but of course they’re going to be inside at the Capitol. Most of their troops, however, are stuck on the Capitol steps, and they’re going to literally be all wet if the forecasted thunderstorms this afternoon materialize.

The Senate convenes at 1:00 p.m.

ORIGINAL: The Senate will vote today on HB 974 and HB 976, the two central bills in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform package. The votes will highlight a huge day at the legislature, complete with a rally on the Capitol steps in which some 10,000 teachers will protest the bills.

Both bills are expected to pass, but they won’t do so overwhelmingly.

We’re told the bills have 18 solid votes, not all of which are Republicans. There are GOP senators who are not on board; most prominently those include Blade Morrish (R-Jennings), John Smith (R-Leesville) and Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles), who are part of a Southwest Louisiana delegation that is getting hammered by the local teachers’ unions. Those unions have filed a recall petition on another legislator from the Lake Charles area, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley.

The governor and his allies in the education reform package will need to pull two more senators in to win the day, and there are several out there to choose from. The word at the capitol is that it’s been “Let’s Make A Deal” week, and that means we’ll see some bridges and state parks and Lord-knows-what spring up in places nobody can quite justify – but that’s what happens when a contentious piece of major legislation gets passed.

We’ll be live-blogging the debate and the vote this afternoon. It’ll likely go well into the night. Tom Bonnette is at the Capitol today, and he’ll be reporting about the protest and the rest of the action later when he can get to the internet.

By the way, the Baton Rouge Advocate had the response from Ben Nevers and Karen Carter Peterson on the Senate floor yesterday about our public records request for their correspondence with the teachers’ union bosses

After receiving a public records request from a political blog for his correspondence with teacher unions, state Sen. Ben Nevers complained that his constituents’ privacy could be compromised.

Nevers, D-Bogalusa, said he has nothing to hide but worries about constituents who share personal details with him.

“I simply say to you today … tell your constituents to be careful what they send to you,” Nevers told the state Senate Tuesday.

Another legislator, state Sen. Karen Peterson, attributed her public records request from The Hayride to opposition to the Jindal administration’s education proposals.

“All of us should be on notice,” she said. “If you oppose the administration, expect to get a public records request.”

Peterson, D-New Orleans, said she hopes Gov. Bobby Jindal reads her emails to find out how people feel about his proposals to make dramatic changes to public education.

The Hayride, an Internet blog, posted a response suggesting that there must be fire behind the smoke.

“It’s not an attack, Senator. It’s a public records request,” the blog posted, targeting Peterson in its response.

Well, they’re public officials. If they weren’t on notice that their communications are a matter of public record then we’re doing them a service by educating them.

We’ve got video of Nevers and Peterson on the Senate floor and we’ll cover that in another post today.



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