It is just days until early voting and I haven’t hardly heard a whisper about the single most important issue for the future of Louisiana. That issue is real improvement in educational outcomes.
So, though I am not a candidate let me take a shot at this topic. In 2012 we passed what were the most impactful education reforms in the history of our state. These were based upon the principles of accountability, parental choice, higher expectations, and early childhood preparation.
For seven years the education status quo folks including Governor Edwards have done everything they can to impede the implementation of these reforms, even in some cases ignoring the law completely. Their efforts have been along the line of the “resist Trump” movement tactics; stall and resist in the hope that eventually people weak on education reform will be elected and the whole thing can be undone. Funny in the dozen years that I served on the Education Committee in the Senate, I cannot think of one time when this resist-reform gaggle has brought forth one idea or made one suggestion on how to improve outcomes. Their only cry has been, get rid of the reforms and give us more money!
Despite all the reactionary efforts, we have made some good progress; case in point higher expectations. We have finally implemented a definition of success that is close to that in other states. We have adopted the ACT as a mandate to graduation, allowing us to compare Louisiana student outcomes against students in other states. We finally believe that our students can succeed, and we have walked away from the bad old days when those education status quo folks just wrote success off by saying we are a poor state and should not expect good results.
These are positive results that have come from a Republican majority in the Louisiana Legislature and a slim majority of reformers on BESE. Of course, the reforms would have fallen victim to the status quo folks and Governor Edwards long ago without the support of committed civic and business leaders and a dedicated leadership in the Department of Education.
That is all history, where do we need to go? As has been suggested by Eddie Rispone it is past time to call a constitutional convention to modernize Louisiana’s fundamental law. A fundamental precept of the new constitution must be the modernization of the relationships between local and state government, to include revenue and spending issues. This rewrite by its nature must include governance of schools. We have had the same model of school governance for 200 years, a model that was developed when Louisiana was a sparsely settled, mostly agrarian state. Today, as we approach the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, we have a problem. Our children are expected to learn in an education system that was developed when the horse and buggy ruled and now they will be designing and building driverless cars.
It is past time to take a deep dive into the entire structure of school governance and finance. That goes for post-secondary education as well. To paraphrase Einstein, to keep doing the same things over and over and expecting a different outcome is insanity. And yet we cling to the notion that what we have been doing unsuccessfully for 200 years will somehow change. Governor Edwards, like many in the legislature are wrongheadedly, convinced that if we just keep pouring money into this antiquated structure it will respond by bringing forth highly educated students. Baloney!
Yes, Mr. Rispone is right. If we are honest with ourselves it is time to abandon those cherished beliefs in an education system that just doesn’t exist anymore (and maybe never did). It is time to bring forth a new concept, a concept in which the metric is not how much money local politicians are given to spend, but how many National Merit Finalists we graduate.
We must have a new fundamental law that supports the only concept that has ever offered the opportunity to bring prosperity to Louisiana. A concept widely held by Founding Fathers, ex-slaves, and returning veterans from World War II but that somehow has gone astray. That concept is that only good education offers a better future. A concept that has been co-opted by an acceptance of a stagnant structure of governance that must be overcome.