With the signature into law of three education bills rushed through the Legislature by Gov. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana now gets a bit of a breather, in which legislators as well as the public get a chance to assess what was done.
Unfortunately, we're not being sarcastic. True, legislators had a few hearings on bills, and there were some amendments from Jindal's critics, a minority in the new Republican-dominated Legislature.
However, the speed with which lawmakers pushed through the Jindal legislation gives few of us a real grasp at this point of what the implications of the bills are.
Why? It's not because some of the Jindal education proposals, borrowed from business-led lobbying groups, are unfamiliar.
Nor are they necessarily bad ideas, given that Louisiana's schools continue to lag regional and national achievement. It's just that a little bit of everything was thrown into the crawfish boil: Jindal packaged a lot of matters that probably should have been given separate hearings and debate, and used his political stroke to push them through in a lump. The bills, even by recent standards in the Legislature, were poorly drafted. Vast numbers of amendments from the administration were thrown on to rewrite the bills on the fly; in one case, a key bill lacked an effective date. Not such a big problem, as legally all bills become law Aug. 1 if they lack that routine bit of language. But it is symptomatic of a "legislative" process pretty contemptuous of the legislators who lined up to vote in lockstep for the Jindal bills. Serious constitutional questions remain, in our view, about using state money dedicated to "public schools" for private-school tuition. This is only one of the kinds of aftershocks that might cause problems for the Jindal proposals in the coming months.
We note the observation of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., a supporter of much of what Jindal has proposed: "Superintendent John White has a big job ahead of him in implementing these reforms." That he does, and that observation -- from a former state legislator, as Landrieu was -- shows how much of this education package is still in its confusing pile. The legislative branch has wielded a rubber stamp, giving a lot of authority to the governor to design the package, and to White and the Department of Education to implement it. So as an exercise in political power, we think the governor earned a day of celebration, as he used Redemptorist Elementary in Baton Rouge as the venue for a ceremonial bill-signing. Jindal's position as a backer of using public dollars for religious schools was underlined by the photo op.
Still, once politics has run its course, this legislation as an exercise in policy is what is important. We can only be optimistic that the changes will be for the best. And like Landrieu, we wish White the best of luck.