(Baton Rouge – January 17, 2012) In a lengthy speech before members of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Governor Bobby Jindal unveiled what he has characterized as his bold plan for public education. The governor outlined a broad agenda divided into categories including teachers, parents, school officials and early childhood education.
As expected, the long list of ideas included a significant number of controversial initiatives. However, it was the governor’s word choice that proved most surprising and that many educators may find offensive.
“It is unfortunate that the governor chose to frame his agenda in a way that demeans teachers,” Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said after reading the governors’ prepared comments.
“On one hand the governor acknowledged teachers as the backbone of education and urged that teachers be celebrated and appreciated. However, just moments later he inaccurately and unfairly asserted to this audience of influential business leaders that teachers “are given lifetime job protection…and short of selling drugs in the workplace or beating up” their students, teachers couldn’t be fired.
“Not only is this not a factual statement, evoking images of those specific behaviors in reference to educators is unjust and insulting,” said Monaghan.
The LFT president noted that there are more than 30 policy initiatives outlined in the governor’s press conference, a barrage of ideas that will have to be carefully sorted when lawmakers come into session on March 12.
“We would hope that there are areas where consensus among stakeholders could emerge in the best interest of children and all citizens,” Monaghan said. “But, there are also areas of obvious strong disagreement.”
Monaghan said he is particularly disappointed with the governor’s efforts to expand a voucher scheme for private and religious schools statewide. While the vouchers currently are only used by a little over 1,000 students in New Orleans, the governor’s plan could affect over 300,000 students in about 70% of Louisiana’s public schools, according to some reports.
“That would devastate public education, and further divide us into a state of educational haves and have-nots,” said Monaghan. “Private and religious schools are largely unaccountable, and can pick and choose which students they want to admit.”
Also of great concern is the governor’s apparent understanding of teachers and the educational community. In a flurry of initiatives, Jindal suggested doing away with the teacher salary schedule, radically reducing the protections of teacher tenure, and tying teacher compensation to student achievement based upon a yet to be implemented Value Added Model, which can only be used to assess one-third of educators.
Monaghan said he was encouraged by the governor’s attention to early childhood development, however.
“What a difference it would have made to teachers and children, if Gov. Jindal had placed early childhood first on his agenda instead of last,” Monaghan said. “Experts agree that a good preparation for school is the best guarantee that children will succeed later. I am hopeful that we can find common ground with the Jindal administration and make early childhood education the centerpiece of this year’s legislative agenda.”