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Week 7 in the Legislature

WEEK SEVEN

Funding & Pay Raises

On Wednesday, April 23rd the House Education Committee considered and approved HCR 23 (Harris), which is the legislative instrument for the Minimum Foundation Program. HCR 23 reflects the MFP exactly as it was proposed by BESE. It includes a $1,500 pay raise for certified personnel and $750 for classified staff. LFT Legislative Director Cynthia Posey testified before the committee, advocating for an increase to the proposed raise.

When BESE submitted the MFP to the legislature, they also included a letter urging that a portion of  additional funds recognized by the Revenue Estimating Conference in early May be allocated for additional salary increases. Until the REC meets, we do not know how much additional revenue will be recognized, but it is widely acknowledged that there will be funding available for additional pay increases. To increase the pay raise, the Legislature would have to vote to return the MFP to BESE so that BESE can amend it. BESE has already agreed to the increase, so the decision rests with the Legislature, and some are already pushing back against further increases, claiming there isn’t enough money to go around.

Meanwhile, the legislature has taken up a number of bills that limit or redirect funding that could otherwise be used for our public schools.

HB 80 (Edmonds) Restricts spending of state general fund revenue-direct to 98% of the official forecast. While this is marketed as a “fiscally responsible measure” the reality is that the state’s official forecast is already very conservative. This unnecessary measure would reduce state funding by $780 million; money that our schools desperately need.

Expanding Voucher Schools (SB 25, HB 33, HB 194, SB 203, HB 227, HB 824, HB 838) Would redirect state funding away from public schools in order to fund private school options, many of which have proven to provide an inferior education to students when compared to their traditional public school. When tallied together, these bills could cost the state as much as $152 million, and would direct tens of millions of dollars away from local public schools.

If HCR 23 is held up in the legislative process or the House is unwilling to return the MFP to BESE for increases, Senator Cleo Fields has filed SCR 19. This alternative instrument will ensure that there is a way to move the pay raises forward. For more information about this process, click here.

Click here to send a personalized message to your Louisiana State Representative and Senator, asking them to support a meaningful  pay increase. Tell them, in your own words, why this is so important.

Attacking the Professionalism of Educators

Coming before the House Education Committee this week is a series of bills that might seem relatively modest on their own, but when taken together would dramatically increase teachers’ workload and attack their professional autonomy. At the root of this legislation is a distrust for teachers. Politicians are trying to score political points on the backs of our teachers and it does nothing to help our schools and students succeed. We need legislators to eliminate burdensome legislation, not create more. Click here to ask the House Education Committee to stop using legislation to micromanage educators and simply let teachers teach.

HB 356: Gives Parents the Right to Examine all “Lessons”

HB 356 (Amedee) Expands the definition of instructional material to include “lessons.” This means that moving forward, parents will have the right to examine lessons that will be used in their child’s classroom. Generally, teachers want parents to be more engaged with the material that we’re teaching. However, there is still a lot of ambiguity about how this will be implemented and how much extra work it may make for teachers and school administrators. If parents have the right to examine all of a teacher’s lessons, how far in advance would they need to see them? Would teachers still be able to deviate from their original lesson plans in order to better adapt to the needs of their students?

HB 453: Requires School Districts to Post Instructional Material Prior to the School Year

HB 453 (Harris) would require school districts to post “a list of materials and activities for each school under its jurisdiction, organized by school, subject area, and grade level.” This bill is not as extreme as HB 75, which he filed earlier this year. After getting significant pushback from educators, Chairman Harris filed HB 453, which states explicitly, “this Section shall not be construed to require a public-school governing authority to post a teacher's lesson plans.” While this bill is far more modest in its scope, it is difficult to say how much extra work this would create for educators. Who is going to have to compile this list of all activities and materials? In most instances, it’ll be teachers. Plus this would impede educators’ ability to add new activities or materials as they become available. Teachers will have less opportunity to be adaptive and flexible throughout the year, which is a critical piece of effective teaching.

HB 369: Post Laws Pertaining to Parental Access & Instructional Materials

HB 368 (Harris) would require school districts to post information about the Parent Bill of Rights and what kinds of information is required to be posted online. This information is already publicly available, to any parent looking to find it, but framing this legal option as the best way for parents to get information about what their kids are learning creates animosity and distrust. Teachers want to talk to parents about their children. They want parents to be more involved in their learning. If parents are curious about instructional materials in the classroom, they can come to their students’ teacher. Forcing districts to post information on the website does nothing to help build collaboration between parents and teachers and it does nothing to help students learn.

HB 837: Politicizing the Classroom

HB 837 (Horton) is intended to prohibit teachers and school employees from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in schools, but this bill would have a far broader scope than legislation that has been proposed in other states. Under HB 837, a teacher would not be able to casually mention his or her spouse, regardless of their gender or sexual identity. If you’ve ever told a student, “my husband and I went to the grocery store this weekend,” you would be in violation of this bill (regardless of whether you are a man or a woman).

Teachers have always been held to the highest standards of professionalism and integrity. If an educator is covering inappropriate topics with their students, there are already mechanisms for school districts to reprimand that teacher. But now, more than ever, we need to be able to recruit new teachers into the profession. We need current students to become future teachers. Any legislation that further strips teachers’ autonomy will only make the teacher shortage worse.

Too many teachers already feel like they are used as scapegoats and blamed for things outside of their control. This type of legislation further vilifies teachers, and attempts to pit teachers against their own communities. In reality, teachers and parents need to work together to meet the needs of students. Legislators should be thinking of ways to support that critical collaboration, not create deeper divisions.

When taken altogether, along with other legislation proposed this session, these bills chip away at the professional integrity of our teachers and gradually add more and more responsibilities to their plate. Now is the time when legislators should be doing everything in their power to lift up the teaching profession in order to recruit and retain our dedicated educators. Instead, we’re seeing bills that would pile on extra work or limit a teacher’s ability to teach. Click here to ask the committee to oppose these bills.

Expanding Employee Rights

Two bills before the House Education Committee this week seek to expand employee rights for teachers and school employees. Click here to ask the Committee to support these bills.

HB 688 (Phelps): Would give teachers the ability to appeal if their sabbatical leave is denied.

HB 819 (Cox): Would do two things:

    1. Give teachers and school employees the ability to take their extended sick leave one day at a time, without having to take all 10 days at once.
    2. Make maternal health extended sick leave available to all employees. Right now, it’s only available to teachers.

Scheduled for Floor Debate Next Week

Please note: These bills are scheduled for floor debate next week. Sometimes controversial bills are passed over until later, to improve efficiency. It is difficult to know with certainty if a bill will be debated when scheduled, or if it will be delayed.

HB 610: Student Loan Bill

Scheduled for floor debate in the House on Wednesday, May 4th.

HB 610 (Green) would give some common sense protections to those taking out student loans and help eliminate predatory lending practices. Under this legislation there are a number of practices that lenders are no longer allowed to engage in, such as “employing a scheme to mislead a student loan borrower” or “misrepresenting or omitting any material information in connection with the servicing of a student education loan.” To see the full list, click here.

HB 244: Local Control over School Calendars

Scheduled for floor debate in the House on Thursday, May 5th.

HB 244 (Mincey) would ensure that local districts are able to determine their own school calendar. It would prevent BESE or the LDOE from creating a requirement where they get to determine whether or not to approve the district’s school calendar. This is especially important given the state’s push for year-round school calendars, which may or may not meet the needs of individual districts. Nothing in this legislation would impact the minimum required instructional minutes.

HB 986: Food Services Privatization

Scheduled for floor debate on Tuesday, May 3rd.

HB 986 (Edmonds) seeks to open the door to privatize school nutrition programs in Louisiana’s public schools. Despite Edmond’s testimony before the House Education Committee that his bill pertained to “snacks and the evening meal,” the legislation would open the door to private, for-profit vendors to take over the management of school food programs. These private corporations would be able to reduce salaries and benefits for employees, as compared to the food service workers employed by the school district. Their staff may not be required to fulfill the same background checks as public-school employees and they would have a financial incentive to cut corners wherever possible. Their priority would be to increase their profit margins rather than provide quality nutritious meals for students.

While local school districts would not be required to privatize their food services, these vendors will promise to cut costs and save the district money. In reality, these corporations seek to profit off of public funding designated specifically to feeding Louisiana’s children.

HB 156: Additional Fees for Teachers

Scheduled for floor debate on Tuesday, May 3rd.

HB 156 (Freiberg) is similar to a bill she proposed last year. It would allow BESE to charge teachers an additional fee for a criminal background check and fingerprint check each time the teacher seeks certification or renewal, and allows them to increase that fee up to 5% a year. This legislation would require all teachers certified prior to June 1, 2023 to pay the fee for these screenings as well. Teachers have always had to submit to criminal screenings in order to earn and maintain their teaching certification, but it isn’t right for the LDOE to charge teachers for additional screenings.

 

SB 151: Preserving Local Control of ITEP

Scheduled for floor debate on Monday, May 2nd.

After a long debate, SB 151 was returned to the calendar on Wednesday afternoon voluntarily, by the author. It is a proposed constitutional amendment that would preserve local governments’ control over their own Industrial Tax Exemptions.

In 2016, Governor Edwards gave local taxing bodies the authority to decide whether to grant exemptions on property taxes in their parishes. Prior to this executive order, an unelected board in Baton Rouge decided whether or not to give corporations exemptions from local property taxes.

This board was able to ignore the wishes of taxpayers as to how they want their hard-earned tax dollars spent. Without this proposed constitutional amendment, another governor could undo Edward’s action and revert the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) to its previous form, eliminating local control over local tax exemptions. Without local control, school boards and other local governing authorities don’t have control over their own revenue, leading to cuts in vital public services like education.

You can show your support for this constitutional amendment by sending a letter to your Louisiana State Senator today!

Expanding Failing Voucher Schools

Many of the bills that seek to expand Louisiana’s failing voucher school system, under a program called “Education Savings Accounts” continue to make their way through the legislature. While there are many of these bills, and they each have a slightly different focus, the ultimate purpose is to take public education funding money and direct it to a private vendor.

These private vendors, many of whom already participate in the Louisiana Scholarship Program, are not held to the same standards as the public school option, and most have proven to offer an inferior education than their traditional school counterpart. In fact, students at these schools consistently underperform compared to those in public schools.

Click here to ask your legislators to stop defunding public education with these failed voucher programs.

April 30th is Election Day!