Today, Governor Bobby Jindal announced legislation he will pursue in the upcoming legislative session to reduce red tape in the state's education system and make it easier for administrators to improve performance in schools. Governor Jindal emphasized that the state has heard from countless superintendents and principals that educators spend an inordinate amount of their time filling out paperwork, writing reports, and navigating through the bureaucratic maze of regulations and red tape. He noted that while many of these regulations are necessary and may have been well intentioned by those who created them, the state needs to find more ways to allow school leaders to focus on student success.
Governor Jindal said the legislation has three main goals. First, the legislation will help reduce burdensome regulations currently placed on schools that may hinder academic growth. Second, it will equip low-performing schools on the verge of state takeover with the tools needed to improve before they are placed in the Recovery School District (RSD), and third, the legislation will help scale up comprehensive school reform in struggling schools to ensure that every Louisiana child has access to a high-quality education.
Governor Jindal said, "The Red Tape Reduction Act today will empower educational leaders to implement comprehensive school reform with greater autonomy, much like schools are able to do after they are placed in the RSD. Schools should not have to wait until they are in the RSD to begin their turn-around. We should not make our children wait to get a better education. This means we need common-sense policies to help get schools back on track before they enter the RSD. We need to give administrators choices and the tools and direction they need to improve their schools. We know every school is not the same, and certainly different students have different challenges. But -- every school and every educator has the same, shared goal of working to ensure our children receive a quality education."
To make the announcement, Governor Jindal was joined by State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, Rapides Parish School System Superintendent and President of the Louisiana School Superintendents Association Gary Jones, Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent Burnell Lemoine, LABI Vice President Brigitte Nieland, BESE At-Large Member Penny Dastugue and a number of state legislators.
Under this legislation, all schools and school districts will be able to apply for a four-year waiver of any state law or BESE policy that does not pertain to federal regulations, student safety, accountability, or graduation requirements tied to the district's ability to meet established benchmarks and performance targets both district-wide and in the persistently lowest-achieving schools.
State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said, "This proposed legislation has the potential to provide district and traditional public school leaders with the same autonomy and flexibility charter schools are empowered to exercise. Too often, well intentioned rules and restrictions have limited the ability of administrators and principals to make the changes necessary to achieve school improvement. Our hope is that these waivers will advance our effort to transform Louisiana's education system away from one that is focused on compliance to a model that effectively supports the academic success of our children."
Louisiana Association of Business and Industry Vice President Brigitte T. Nieland said, "Superintendents and other education officials have been saying that many state laws and policies tie their hands, rendering them unable to make needed changes to improve schools. We have seen the progress made with many charter schools, particularly in New Orleans, when barriers to progress are removed. LABI supports this legislation, which would give school district officials much more flexibility and allow them to make the changes that are critical to raising student achievement."
BESE 1st District Representative Penny Dastugue said, "I applaud Governor Jindal for recognizing the need to provide more flexibility and autonomy to our districts which will undoubtedly be realized at the school and classroom level. This is so important for our classroom teachers as they will be relieved from excessive paperwork and allow them more time on instructional and enrichment activities with our children. This is something that our local superintendents have requested - I believe it will drive innovation and best practices which will result in improved student achievement."
School Superintendent David Corona of the West Baton Rouge Parish School System said, "I am very pleased that Governor Jindal will introduce legislation that will provide public schools the opportunity to do important work to improve academic student performance without having the hindrance of different types of red tape. While the devil is always in the details, our Governor is attempting to do things that will ultimately improve public education in our state."
BESE 6th District Representative Chas Roemer said, "I fully support the Governor's efforts in this regard. It provides increased autonomy for local schools much like we give charter schools now, but in return it asks for increased accountability. I support local schools and local school management, but we must maintain high accountability. This is a great step in that direction. In the end, I believe the kids will benefit from these changes."
Superintendent of the Rapides Parish School District Dr. Gary L. Jones said, "As an individual superintendent of one of the larger districts in the state, I applaud Governor Bobby Jindal's initiative to provide flexibility to local school districts and individual schools to allow them the same creativity that has earmarked the growth of the charter school movement. Governor Jindal's efforts will allow school districts and schools to develop creative and innovative solutions uniquely crafted to their individual needs. I am confident when my fellow superintendents learn of this initiative they will endorse and support the Governor's efforts. This is further evidence that Louisiana continues to be on the edge of national education reform efforts."
President and CEO of the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) Barry Erwin said, "Broadly speaking CABL supports these concepts of increasing autonomy for schools and districts with the goal of achieving better outcomes. We hope these ideas can be turned into sound strategies that will help all of our schools bring creative ideas to the classroom and improve student performance. We look forward to working with the governor to more fully develop these proposals."
Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent Lemoine said, "We believe that there are very good reasons for many of these guidelines, and we believe that, traditionally, these guidelines have worked for many of our schools. Some continue to work for our schools. However, the level of control exerted in some state regulations restricts the system's flexibility in many ways, and this can have an impact on our ability to deliver quality services. The amount of reporting required uses up an enormous amount of our resources, and we do not feel that this reporting creates any positive outcomes for children. We hope that the Governor's efforts will bring to light the challenges we face in trying to educate an extraordinarily diverse student population, while at the same time adhering to these restrictive state requirements."
Representative Major Thibaut said, "Not every school or classroom is the same - and these reforms recognize that. Instead of hampering our teachers and administrators with a set of universal regulations, this bill will provide the flexibility needed for school districts to address the individual educational needs of our different schools."
Representative Mert Smiley said, "With this legislation, our school districts will have more room to make the changes necessary to deliver a quality education for our students. I applaud the Governor and all those involved for finding a smart way to maintain standards while giving schools more freedom to make these crucial changes that will ultimately provide our children with an education experience that is second to none."
Representative Rickey Hardy said, "As a legislator who holds the education of our young people near and dear to my heart, I believe that this legislation is another positive step for our public education system here in Louisiana. Eliminate unnecessary teacher policies and regulations in order for teachers to be able to work to increase student achievement scores."
Representative Patrick Williams said, "This legislation is a smart step in the right direction for holding our school systems accountable while also providing them with the tools necessary for improving the learning environment of Louisiana schools. With this bill - teachers and administrators will have many more options for reforming the classroom, which will ultimately benefit our students."
The Governor said that high-performing schools have obviously demonstrated that they are capable of managing their schools well, and the state should reward them for their achievements by giving them greater autonomy to excel even higher.
However, an astounding 55 public schools in Louisiana have been designated "academically unacceptable" with School Performance Scores (SPS) of 60 or less, meaning that about 61 percent of students are performing below grade level. Thirty of these schools have been placed under the jurisdiction of the RSD.
Additionally, 24 schools have MOU's with the RSD in lieu of state takeover, and 10 more, if they do not show substantial improvement, will be eligible for placement in the RSD within the next few years.
BESE recently voted to raise the "academically unacceptable status" (AUS) bar to 75. However, the Governor said an SPS of 75 is still a modest expectation -- meaning that only half of a school's students are performing at grade level. In fact, 248 schools have an SPS between 60 and 75 and will be expected to substantially improve over the next few years.
Examples of regulations that districts and schools might seek waivers for include:
* Curriculum: Schools may want to be able to focus more time on reading, math, or other areas in which students are behind grade level.
* Textbooks: Schools may want greater flexibility in their use of textbooks, including the ability to use digital textbooks and those that are more up-to-date than what the state has approved
* Instructional Time: Schools may want to extend the length of their school day or year to provide intensive remediation or to model other best practices.
* Pupil/Teacher Ratio: Some schools may need to exceed the allowed pupil/teacher ratio if they have certain classes taught by a highly effective teacher.
* Tenure: Some districts may consider altering the way they grant tenure or conduct tenure hearings to further drive excellence.
* Salary Schedule: Districts may want to offer more compensation to teachers who serve in low-performing schools or adopt a performance pay plan.
* Budget: Some districts or schools may consider adopting a student-based budgeting model or a district may be interested in seeking a waiver from legislative funding mandates in order to redirect dollars to more effective dropout prevention programs.
* Teacher Certification: Schools may want to seek waivers to allow industry professionals to be able to teach specialized career and technical education courses.
Governor Jindal said that in exchange for greater flexibility, public schools where half or more of students are performing below grade level would be required to demonstrate greater accountability by first assuring the effectiveness of their teachers, and second implementing key turnaround strategies.
The turnaround strategies will be consistent with the state's Race to the Top application and guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Education for School Improvement Grants, which include four components:
1. Turnaround: Schools put in place new leadership and a majority of new staff, new governance, and improved instructional programs, to provide them with sufficient operational flexibilities such as the ability to select staff, control budget, and expand learning time
2. Restart: A strategy to convert a school or close and reopen under a charter or education management organization
3. School closure: Schools close and place their students in a high-performing school within the district.
4. Transformation: Schools hire a new principal and implement a suite of best practices
Governor Jindal said, "There is flexibility in that while these schools are working to improve their performance throughout the waiver period with greater autonomy, they are not subject to placement in the RSD. The accountability comes when schools must demonstrate progress in meeting benchmarks established, and must raise overall performance by the end of the waiver period. Schools that do not comply with the requirements of the waiver will automatically be placed in the Recovery School District."
The Governor noted that the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) will provide technical assistance to these schools as they implement one of these turnaround strategies. He also emphasized that these waivers, and the corresponding requirements, would all be optional.
He said that low-performing schools on the verge of state takeover may choose to continue to implement their own improvement strategies under the current accountability system. The legislation also directs the LDOE to review all federal, state, and board regulations and reporting requirements to identify those that are particularly burdensome for schools and school districts. The Governor said he will then work with the LDOE to request changes in these regulations from the appropriate governing body.