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Week 11 in the Legislature

WEEK 11

Additional Fees for Teachers - Moves to Senate Finance

HB 156 (Freiberg) is a bill crafted by the Louisiana Department of Education in response to a 2019 FBI audit that revealed the LDOE is out of compliance with federal law on criminal history information. LDOE, under John White’s tenure, created this problem by not fully understanding the law and passing a series of legislation that contradicted federal standards as late as 2018.

Now, LDOE is working to pass this legislation that would allow them to process background checks for all current teachers and all future teachers at the time of certification or recertification, in addition to the background checks teachers already get when they become student teachers and when they're hired. This means that new teachers would have to get the same background check three times, and they’d have to pay for it out of their own pocket.

Background checks are important to ensure the safety of our students. The troubling piece about this legislation is that it would require teachers to shoulder the financial burden of these duplicate background checks. Teachers would have to pay an additional background check fee and some of that money would go directly to the Louisiana Department of Education. On top of that, this legislation could delay teachers seeking certification from entering the classroom (further exacerbating the teacher shortage) because there is already an extensive waiting period due to a backlog at the Louisiana State Police.

Cynthia Posey, LFT Legislative & Political Director, testified before the Senate Education Committee last week. She pointed out the many ways that the LDOE has been unforthcoming about the details behind their plan and the fact that there are other options that haven’t been pursued. In truth, this bill could be amended to change other aspects of the law that would resolve the problem without placing the financial burden on teachers. Some legislators have been working to bring together different stakeholders to rectify this law, but LDOE has continued to be single minded in their approach to the problem, without considering other options. Moreover, the change would not go into effect until June 2023, so this legislation could be pushed back until next session and there would still be time to make the changes requested by the FBI audit.

On Monday, May 30th, HB 156 will be heard before the Senate Finance Committee.

Legislative Auditor Report on Teacher Retention

Last week, the legislative auditor released a report entitled Teacher Qualifications and Pay Impact on Teacher Retention and Student Performance. The study examined three core questions:

  1. What teacher qualifications are associated with higher teacher effectiveness in improving student academic performance?
  2. What types of schools or school districts have more experienced and certified teachers
  3. How can the state better attract and retain an effective teaching workforce?

Unsurprisingly, the report found that certified teachers are more effective on average than uncertified teachers and teachers with more experience are more effective as well. It also revealed that Louisiana has the fifth highest rate of uncertified teachers in the country - 9% of our teachers are uncertified, compared to a national average of only 3%. Moreover, 16% of our teachers are in their first or second year, which is the 4th highest in the country. This is directly related to student outcomes: only 6% of teachers at A-rated schools are uncertified compared to 24% of those at F-rated schools.

The report recommended increasing compensation for teachers, decreasing housing costs and increasing retirement benefits as methods to improve teacher retention. They estimate that for each additional $1,000 in salary, a teacher is 0.4 percentage points more likely to remain in Louisiana’s public education workforce. While economic limitations do create very real concerns for Louisiana’s teachers, they are not the only thing driving educators away. Many teachers cite increased paperwork, too many useless meetings, lack of respect for their profession, and an overall untenable workload as reasons they leave the profession. Nonetheless, the fact remains that if we want to fill the 2000+ vacancies that currently exist and prevent further vacancies in the future, Louisiana needs to dramatically increase pay for teachers and school employees now.

State Superintendent Cade Brumley submitted a public response to the auditor’s report. Keith Leger from the Department of Education asked LFT representatives to disseminate it — he said that it may make you feel respected and valued. In this 2-page response, Dr. Brumley discusses solutions like “supporting [teachers] with mentorship, instructional coaching, and a direct line to certification and/or permanency through performance reviews” and utilizing new, unnamed, technologies.

What is YOUR response? What do you think of this report and how Dr. Brumley responded? What do you think needs to be done to recruit and retain teachers in Louisiana?

As Dr. Brumley said in his letter, “we should listen to classroom teachers” – so use this opportunity to let him know what you and your coworkers really need to be successful educators.

Click here to send him a letter!

Expanding Voucher Schools

This week the Senate Education Committee approved a number of bills that seek to expand Louisiana’s failed voucher program under a new model called an “education savings account.” Despite the name, these programs are not savings accounts. They give students public tax dollars, roughly $5,500, to fund education at a private vendor outside the public school system. Unlike the START K-12 program which is an account like a health savings account where families can save money to spend on educational expenses tax free, this is a state-funded voucher program. These voucher schools would be approved by the LDOE, so there would likely be a lot of overlap between these schools and the schools already enrolled in Louisiana’s existing voucher program.

Unlike the school reforms of 2012, when the voucher program was first created, Louisiana now has a lot of data evaluating voucher school performance and the student experience in these schools. The data is clear: students in voucher schools perform worse than their peers in traditional public schools.

According to an independent analysis, 92% of voucher schools that receive a letter grade from the state got a grade of D or F. The most recent publication of the EDRE Working Paper series analyzing Louisiana’s Scholarship Program shows that after four years, Louisiana's voucher program had a statistically significant negative impact on students, particularly in math where students’ scored 30% lower than their counterparts in traditional public schools.

While some of these bills are well-intentioned. The fact is these programs will do nothing to improve our public schools. Instead, they will divide up state funding in order to take resources from public schools to fund private schools that have been proven less effective. Here are the ESA bills that passed the Senate Education Committee this week.

  • HB 33 (Devillier) Would open up ESAs to any student who has a parent who is an active duty military service member, is in foster care placement or who has been denied an intradistrict transfer.
  • HB 194 (Butler) Would open up ESAs to any student with an exceptionality.
  • HB 452 (Freiberg) Would open up ESAs to any student who has been a victim of bullying.

Expanding Employee Rights on Extended Sick Leave

HB 819 (Cox) was approved by the full House on Monday. The bill was amended, which changed some of the expanded rights from mandatory to optional. In its current form, the legislation allows school districts to grant all employees up to 30 days of additional extended sick leave for illness related to pregnancy or infant illness, as certified by a physician. It also eliminates the requirement that extended sick leave be taken in increments of at least ten consecutive work days, giving employees more flexibility to take their extended sick time in a way that meets their medical needs. HB 819 has been carried by Rep. Jefferson, as Rep. Cox has been out with an injury. Next, the bill will go before the Senate Education Committee.

Teacher Voice in SLTs

On Thursday, HB 363 (Bryant) passed through the full Senate by a vote of 37-0. This bill will make it so a supervisor (usually the school principal or assistant principal) will have to sit down with each teacher and discuss their SLTs. If they don't have this meeting, then SLTs can't be used in that teacher's evaluation.

Reviewing How Many Trainings the Legislature Has Required for Teachers

HB 509 (Mincey) passed the full Senate on Thursday morning 36-0. This bill requires the LDOE to review all the laws pertaining to teacher related trainings and report them to the legislature. They’ll also have to review it every five years. Each year the legislature passes more trainings that teachers are required to do. While most of these are sensible and well intentioned, it adds up. These trainings create more and more unpaid work for teachers. It means more meetings and more paperwork and is adding to teacher burnout.

Ending the Onslaught of Additional Trainings

HB 510 (Mincey) is in the same vein as HB 509, but it takes it a step further. Under this bill, if the legislature wants to add a new required training for teachers, they have to provide compensation OR remove an existing training (one which requires at least the same amount of time as the new requirement). HB 510 also passed through the full Senate on Thursday morning 33-0.

What is the Impact of Lengthening the School Year?

SR 146 (Jackson) is a resolution to request the state Department of Education to study the impact that adding days to the school calendar has on teachers, and to submit a written report of its findings and any recommendations to the Senate Committee on Education no later than December 1, 2022. SR 146 passed out of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday afternoon. It will now go to the full Senate for final adoption.

How Much Do Standardized Tests Cost?

HCR 113 (Mincey) is a concurrent resolution that requests LDOE to study the cost of standardized testing associated with state assessments and submit that report to the legislature. HCR 113 was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday without objection. It will now proceed to the Senate floor for final adoption.

Reducing Charter Schools’ Obligations Towards Economically Disadvantaged Students

Under current law, there is a provision aimed at preventing public charter schools from being able to cherry pick students. HB 940 (Freiberg) could roll that back in order to reduce the amount of economically disadvantaged students that charter schools are required to serve.

Any given school district has an average amount of students with exceptionalities and from economically disadvantaged households. Under current law, a charter school’s student enrollment must have at least 85% of that average. So, for example, if a district has a student population where 50% are either economically disadvantaged or have exceptionalities (excluding gifted and talented), then a charter school in that district would be required to have at least 42.5% of their students economically disadvantaged or with exceptionalities (85% of 50%). This is often violated, and governing bodies that oversee the charter are supposed to take corrective action.

Under this bill, that 85% would no longer be based on the demographics of the school district, but rather the “geographic boundary” that the charter serves. So, this would include all the students in private schools. Generally, families that can afford to send their children to private schools are less economically disadvantaged than those in public school. So, in effect, this would reduce the amount of economically disadvantaged students that charter schools are required to serve. Meanwhile, the traditional public schools are still required to serve all the students who come to them, regardless of their economic situation or their exceptionalities.

HB 940 was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday and will now proceed to the full Senate.