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Big business to spend big money on BESE races this fall

BESE Report – August 2015

Big business to spend big money on BESE races this fall

Louisiana’s big business lobby is on track to spend an unprecedented amount on races for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this fall.

According to journalist Jeremy Alford’s LaPolitics Weekly, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry has already raised $675,000 to spend on elections this cycle, and intends to dedicate nearly half of that to BESE races. Sources say that LABI’s war chest could grow to over $1 million by Election Day.

LABI was part of a spending tsunami in 2011 that elevated a pro-voucher, pro-charter, pro-privatization majority to the state’s highest school board. The new board’s first order of business was to appoint Gov. Bobby Jindal’s choice for State Superintendent of Education, John White.

LABI won’t be alone in supporting BESE’s status quo. The Alliance for Better Classrooms PAC, formed by union-buster Lane “Take’em by the Aorta” Grigsby, expects to spend megabucks on BESE races, as will Empower Louisiana, another Grigsby outfit.

They will be joined in supporting so-called “reform candidates” by Stand for Children, the Federation for Children, Democrats for Education Reform, the Black Alliance fort Education Options and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, which is run by Chas Roemer’s sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley.

According to campaign reports, LABI spent $30,000 on BESE races in 2007, and bumped that to $305,000 in 2011. This year’s spending by pro-business forces will be stratospheric. By any reckoning, supporters of true public education will be badly outspent this cycle.

BESE comprises eight members elected in districts, and three at-large members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Getting the state’s highest school board out of corporate hands and back under the control of the people will require a major get-out-the-vote effort by public education supporters, as well as a sea change in the governor’s mansion.

BESE breezes through August agenda in record time

Veteran BESE watchers were amazed at how quickly the state school board breezed through its committee and general meeting agendas this week. The board set a speed record even though there was one addition to this week’s meetings, a public hearing on the allocation of 8(g) funds.

Committee meetings that generally run longer than their allotted time actually ran short this month. At one point, BESE members had to adjourn for two hours so that the next committee meeting could begin on time.

That doesn’t mean important issues weren’t dealt with – they just weren’t discussed for very long, or at all.

For example, the board’s charter school consultant, SchoolWorks, recommended against granting a charter to the Grambling High Foundation. The State Department, however, recommended conditionally granting the charter application. Without debate, the board accepted the department’s recommendation – there’s no rule that the board must act on the consultant’s advice.

Assessment changes noted

Briefing the board on changes to state evaluation procedure, Superintendent of Education John White verified that the so-called evaluation override has been eliminated, giving the judgment of principals more weight.

What does that mean? Under state law, 50% of teacher evaluations are based on professional practice, or the principals’ evaluations, and 50% on student growth. That is mainly determined by Student Learning Targets (while Value Added Model data is still collected, it is in abeyance for teacher evaluations).

But under previous practice, an unsatisfactory result on either professional practice or student growth resulted in an overall “unsatisfactory” evaluation. That was clearly not in line with the law, and that “evaluation override” is no more.

A policy change allows evaluators to conduct just one observation for veteran teachers rated “highly effective.” At least one observation must be formal, and include a pre-and post-evaluation conference. Subsequent observations, White said, may be less formal drop-ins.

The superintendent said he hopes that evaluation data collection can eventually move away from state control and be under local auspices, with reports to the state department.

Common Core, testing changes underway

Superintendent White said the department is in the process of implementing changes to state curriculum standards mandated by the legislature last spring.

Even though the state is no longer part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), White said, 49% of high-stakes test questions may be similar to those provided by the controversial consortium. The majority must be Louisiana-specific questions.

Next year, the state will issue a request for proposals for a new testing regimen, and vendors are notified that Louisiana teachers must be consulted on the new questions.

Louisiana School Boards Association Executive Director Scott Richard said that the scoring of the tests will remain a big issue. Instructional leaders want to know how school letter grades will be computed under the new tests. “We’re trying to figure out what the letter grades will look like,” he said.

A release from the Department of Education provided an update on what educators, parents, and students can expect from 2015-2016 tests in all subjects:

  • 2015-2016 ELA and math assessments will measure Louisiana's current standards and will have questions that are academically aligned with questions on 2014-2015 assessments. Teachers should use EAGLE questions and last year's sample tests to prepare for questions aligned to the current standards.
  • Due to the fact the 2015-2016 school year will be the first year the Grades 3-8 social studies assessment will be based on the GLEs updated in 2011, these assessments will be field tested this year (questions will be new, so the tests will be given a dry run that will not count in School Performance Scores).
  • There will be no changes in Grades 3-8 science assessments or End-of-Course assessments. The Department will work with school systems this year to reduce high school testing in the future and to improve future science tests.

Questions about the assessments can be sent to

Federal funds to increase access to Pre-K education

Taking advantage of $10 million in federal funds, BESE approved a plan that will allow access to quality day care for to up to 15,000 children from low-income families.

The spending approved by BESE will help compensate for years of cuts to state funding by the Jindal administration. Since the 2008-09 school year, funding for child care has been reduced by 60%.

During that time, according to the Department of Education, there has been a growing carryover in federal funding. That surplus will be used to pay for the child care initiative.

The money will increase the rate paid to child care centers on behalf of impoverished parents from about $1,700 to $4,000 per child.

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