SADOW: BESE Elections Will Affect Education Reform Momentum

With high-profile statewide and legislative election on tap this fall, Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education contests have flown somewhat under the radar, but whose outcomes will determine whether education reforms continue to advance.

Eight of the 11 slots are up for four-year terms, with the remaining three members chosen by the governor in coterminous fashion. Shaping BESE for the first time is term limits of three, which started counting beginning with the results of 2011 elections and will dispatch Republicans James Garvey and Holly Boffy and Democrat Kira Orange Jones. Additionally, GOP rookie member Ashley Ellis will defer. All other incumbents appear to be running for reelection.

Republican state Rep. Lance Harris has raised his hand to replace Ellis, with her blessing. Harris has an extensive track record in legislating on education issues, and very much in line with expanding school choice and accountability. His HB 98 this past regular session would have created a money-follow-the-student system that in large degree would replicate the open enrollment model used in Orleans Parish schools, plus create flexibility for families to embrace nonpublic education.

Similarly, Garvey has endorsed GOP state Rep. Paul Hollis to succeed him. Hollis hasn’t been as active as Harris in promoting an education reform agenda, but his legislative voting behavior strongly shows he will support that.

Jones often teamed with Garvey to support choice and accountability measures, helping to give reform advocates typically the six-vote minimum needed to maintain this agenda during this term. An anti-reform bloc of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ appointees plus Democrat member Preston Castile routinely have opposed such measures. She hasn’t made any endorsements, and longtime educator Sharon Latten-Clark has announced a bid to replace her. Latten-Clark’s background suggests she may be open to a reform agenda, but whoever emerges in that post unlikely will match the support Jones often showed.


Neither has Boffy thrown her support behind a successor, but former Lafayette Parish School Board member Republican Erick Knezek has announced his intention to run for her spot. His record locally indicated often supporting reform.

Having as many members as possible sympathetic to reform is important, as Boffy’s and Jones’ cases demonstrates. In Boffy’s last term her reform commitment seemed to waver, particularly in her persistent championing of watering down educational quality to allow high school graduates to receive diplomas without meeting state testing standards, if they pass an appeals process with work qualitatively rather than quantitatively assessed. She and Jones joined the anti-reformers to pass this. Both Harris and Hollis have signaled opposition to that.

Electoral currents such as they are, likely a Republican governor will assume office next year making probable that the three appointees will join the reform agenda. That would leave just Castile among returning board members clearly against that. Still, more votes for it are better, which will depend upon who qualifies, their campaigning, and the voters’ will this fall.



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