CUNNINGHAM: The Race For Louisiana Superintendent Is Tight, But Who Is In The Lead?

Lost in all the talk on COVID-19, the state shutdown, and the struggling economy is the fact that Louisiana is still looking to replace John White, who stepped down as Superintendent of Education in March. While everyone else has been focused on the disease, the governor, and the legislature, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has been focusing on narrowing down the list of applicants for the top education job in the state.

There are currently six finalists: Jessica Baghian, currently assistant superintendent of education; Dr. Cade Brumley, superintendent of the Jefferson Parish School System; Lonnie Luce, superintendent for Charter Schools USA Louisiana for two years; Heather Poole of Alexandria, executive vice chancellor of Central Louisiana Technical Community College; Joe Siedlecki, association commissioner for school system support, innovation and charters for the Texas Education Agency; and Paul Vallas, senior consultant with the Bronner Group LLC from 2014-19 and project director for the U.S. Department of Justice from 2016-17.

Looking over their resumes, it would seem like Baghian, Brumley, and Luce are the three top contenders. Baghian is an obvious choice, given that she has been working with White and plans to continue the course he was charting for Louisiana. But, Brumley’s record as superintendent in DeSoto Parish and Jefferson Parish is really good. He also comes across as a strong conservative.

Likewise, in a state that sees healthy support for school choice, Luce’s time as superintendent of Charter Schools USA in Louisiana makes him look good. 30 years in the Louisiana National Guard Reserves doesn’t look bad, either.

The problem with Baghian is that she, like White, would require a waiver for the certification needed to serve as state superintendent. That is not something you would need with the other two, but given White’s legacy in the job and the improvements we’ve seen over the last eight years, it’s hard to argue against letting that continue. In that regard, Baghian is a known quantity. We know what she is bringing to the table and what the plans are.

Not to mention that with all the chaos in the state surrounding with the schools shut down, an uncertain future, and the like, Baghian would not need to go search for a whole new team, whereas the other two candidates could very well have their own people to bring in and shake things up.

The other big factor is the governor. He was not a fan of White, and on more than one occasion tried to subvert and even get rid of him. Naturally, he is also against Baghian, who he (correctly) sees as an extension of White’s policies. In Baton Rouge, there has been a campaign by Edwards’ allies (with his permission and blessing) to try and get the Republicans on BESE to support Brumley or Luce. Considering that Brumley comes across as very conservative (I don’t know Luce’s leanings), it’s not about ideology, but just trying to get rid of White’s people.

It is impossible to say how BESE would vote if that vote were held right now. But, they have until Wednesday to make up their minds. My gut says that Baghian is the favorite and she is the candidate I would support if I were casting a vote here, but the campaign behind Brumley is a strong one, too. Luce, from what I can gather, is not as distant a third as I initially thought.

What’s important, though, is making sure that we as a state choose the candidate who will do the best job for our children. Not for teachers. Not for unions. For the students in our schools.

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