Education Committee Talks "Empowerment"

Mar 13, 2014

Senate Education Committee chair Conrad Appel

The word of the day in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday was “empowerment”, with bills giving more authority to school principals and local districts moving forward.

The “Empowered Community Schools” bill, SB 385, by Sen. Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte) would allow principals rated “highly effective” to basically declare themselves in charge — of hiring and firing and over school service and repair contracts.

“It takes a really high-end principal to want to take on these types of responsibilities,” LaFleur told his fellow committee members. “However, it is an incentive for those principals who are capable of it and are ready and willing to do it.”

Yet the Louisiana Association of Principals opposes the bill.

“For the next two years, we’re going to be transitioning to new assessments, and the data that is used to determine whether a principal is ‘highly effective’ is going to be in swift change,” explained Debra Schum, the association’s director. “We want to make sure that principals are empowered, but we don’t want to endanger them.”

Representatives of two of the teachers’ unions also spoke in opposition to the bill.

“Why not provide a ‘highly effective’ teacher with the ability to operate her classroom in any way that she sees fit?” asked Michael Walker Jones of the LAE.

“No individual is more deserving of empowerment than the classroom teacher,” LFT president Steve Monaghan chimed in.

Despite those objections, the bill—which is backed by the state Department of Education and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry—is now headed to the Senate floor.

Also advancing was Committee Chairman Conrad Appel’s SB 366, which effectively does away with state-mandated textbooks.

“Districts will be responsible for the final decision on the selection of books, or curricula packages or teaching materials,” Appel (R-Metairie) explained. Districts would form committees, made up of education professionals and parents, to pick the textbooks they think are best.

“This is as close as we can get to parents being involved in the decisions that have to be made about teaching materials and about curriculum,” Appel added.

Several parents who spoke in support of the measure centered their remarks around support for Common Core state standards, prompting Appel to try and clarify his bill.

“This is not about standards in any way, shape or form. There’s no standards here,” Appel said. He then assured parents they would have a chance to voice their support for Common Core, when bills addressing that issue come before his committee later in the session.