East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers President Carnell Washington urges the Senate Education Committee to reject HB 1368.
Mr. Carnell Washington, president of the East Baton Rouge Federation, speaks to an overflow crowd of educators as witnesses, the Senate Education Committee on Friday approved a heavily-amended version of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s pet legislation, the so-called “Red Tape Reduction and Local Waiver Empowerment Program,” HB 1368 by Rep. Jane Smith (R-Bossier City).
The bill, described by LFT President Steve Monaghan as the “most dangerous” item on the session’s agenda, would allow local school superintendents, with the permission of the school board, to ask for a waiver of virtually any law or policy regarding public education. In its original form, only health and safety issues could not be waived.
Under heavy pressure from the governor's office, wary lawmakers have moved the bill through the process while trying to chip away at its worst aspects.
In the House of Representatives, for example, it was amended to ensure that school food service rules could not be waived.
As HB 1368 made its debut in the Senate Education committee, Chairman Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa) admitted that his preference would be to scrap the bill and start over. Since legislative rules don’t allow that, Sen. Nevers introduced a pile of amendments aimed at making the bill “palatable” to teachers and school employees.
The most significant of the amendments gives teachers in any school the right to vote, by secret ballot, on any waiver proposed by the superintendent that would affect their school. No waiver could be imposed in a school if the faculty objected.
Another amendment stipulates that no waiver would be allowed that conflicts with the newly adopted teacher evaluation program and its value-added component.
None of the amendments was adequate to satisfy LFT’s basic objection to the bill; it is a poorly constructed document that interferes with the authority of the legislature to pass laws.
LFT President Steve Monaghan spoke to that issue when, after offering testimony against the bill, he was brought back to the witness table to answer specific questions about the amendments.
Sen. Gerald Long (R-Winnfield) asked the LFT president if the amendment requiring a vote of affected teachers changed Monaghan’s opinion of the bill.
Saying that he appreciated efforts to make the bill more “palatable,” Monaghan noted that it is always better to give teachers a voice in their own profession.
But even with those concessions, Monaghan said, “The bill is conceptually flawed. It takes us in a direction we didn’t need to go, and certainly shouldn’t go.”
“The bill at its core cannot be fixed,” Monaghan concluded.
A final comment on the bill from Sen. Nevers reflected the pressure lawmakers have felt from a governor’s office determined to see the bill enacted. “I’ve done the best I can with the limitations I have,” said Sen. Nevers.
Federation leaders speaking against the bill included Jefferson Federation President Meladie Munch, St. Tammany Federation President Elsie Burkhalter, East Baton Rouge Federation President Carnell Washington and Tangipahoa Federation Executive Vice President Valerie Prier.
Only Sen. Long and Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton Rouge) supported the teachers’ position and voted against the bill. Those voting in favor were Sen. Nevers, Sen. Jack Donohue (R-Mandeville), Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) and Sen. Eric Lafleur (D-Ville Platte).