LA Gov. Edwards Loses In Clash Over Education Redesign

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's top public school board ignored the wishes of Gov. John Bel Edwards and moved ahead Wednesday with plans to submit a redesign of state education policies to the federal government next month.

         Edwards wanted the submission delayed until mid-September, saying it needed more work.

         But the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 7-4 to send the outline in April, siding with Superintendent of Education John White. All three of Edwards' appointees to the board voted against an April submission after six hours of debate.

         At issue is a proposal required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, a 2015 law that requires states to spell out how they'll address school ratings, student report cards and other ways to spot and help troubled schools.

         White's plan would change the way student performance is measured in Louisiana, along with the method for calculating public school letter grades. Standardized testing requirements would be reworked, and the measuring stick for school academics would get tougher.

         Edwards called it an "incomplete vision for Louisiana." He said the plan needs more debate with teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, parents and others before submitting to the federal government. He said it includes too much required testing and too little detail about how school performance will be judged. He also raised concerns about financing changes.

         Principals, superintendents and school board members overwhelmingly sought delay as well, while teachers and education groups were split. And even as education board members agreed to submit the plan in April, they also started tinkering with the details of what will be sent to the federal government.

         Those pushing for delay said President Donald Trump's administration changed the regulations governing the federal law as recently as this week. They said the plan needed more time for conversation.

         Doris Voitier, one of Edwards' appointees to the education board, said 61 of the state's 69 public school superintendents and 96 percent of public school principals wanted to stall the plan submission until September.

         "Something is wrong," she said. "The draft as it sits, I think it's incomplete."

         White said sending the outline to federal officials will set up rollout of the changes starting in the 2017-18 school year. He rejected suggestions there's been too little input, saying the education department has held 136 meetings on the plan over the last nine months.

         He said submission to the federal government doesn't end the conversation, because the rules won't be final until the summer.

         Jim Garvey, a board member from Jefferson Parish, said he thinks critics of the plan are resistant to changes that could show how poorly some of Louisiana's schools are performing. He said the current grading scale has been telling some parents their children's schools are top-performing when they wouldn't rate so highly in other states.

         "We've been lying to the parents. We've been lying to ourselves. We've been lying to the taxpayers," Garvey said, urging against delay.

         Board President Gary Jones encouraged continued conversations about the plan, saying it could be tweaked even after it's sent to the federal government.

         "What happens today is just the beginning," Jones said. "We've got much, much time to listen to the concerns."

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte


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