On Tuesday, October 11th and 12th, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) held their regularly scheduled October meetings. There was increased interest and scrutiny because of a few controversial issues on the agenda: funding and accountability.
FUNDING & RAISES
Tuesday’s committee meetings began with a public hearing to receive public recommendations regarding the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), which is the funding formula for Louisiana public schools. As expected, advocates from the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, the Louisiana School Boards Association, and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools testified in favor of increasing funding in level one of the MFP – which is the part of the formula that gives school districts the greatest flexibility in how they can use the additional funding.
The Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) has continued to advocate for additional funding to be directed into level four of the MFP, which is the portion of the formula that funds teacher and school employee salaries. The only way to ensure that teachers and school employees receive a raise next year is for additional funding to go into level four.
Over 1,300 people have signed LFT’s petition asking that further funding increases go into level four of the formula, and hundreds sent letters directly to the BESE members requesting the same. LFT President Larry Carter testified before the board, bringing this widespread consensus to their attention. He presented the petition along with an impassioned appeal to the board, asking that they direct funding increases to the people who need it most: Louisiana’s teachers and school employees.
“Yes, we’ve won raises in the past few years, but please don’t think that’s enough to make up for a decade of disinvestment. In fact, raises passed by this body and the legislature have been mostly canceled out by premium increases by the Office of Group Benefits. Talk to any veteran teacher and they’ll tell you: when the legislature gives us an extra $50 a month, that means insurance will go up $75. Unfortunately, the last few years have been no different.
Just yesterday, before the Senate Education Committee, Jim Henderson, the President of the University of Louisiana System talked about the compensation gap facing our teachers. Since 1996, the weekly salary for all college graduates has increased by about $440/week when accounting for inflation, but for teachers it’s increased by only $29 per week. Louisiana ranks 9th in this compensation gap between public education teachers and non-education professionals. Public school teachers in Louisiana earn almost 28% less than their non-education, college-graduate peers.
I know Dr. Brumley is proud to report that the teacher vacancy levels have decreased, but please don’t for even one minute think that we’re past this crisis.”
[excerpt from President Carter’s speech before BESE]
In reality, many teacher vacancies have been filled by inexperienced and uncertified educators, who often aren’t getting the support they need to be successful. Louisiana has a long way to go toward ensuring that every student has a qualified and experienced teacher.
Ultimately, there will be no final decision until next year. Usually, BESE will finalize its MFP proposal in February or March and send that proposal to the legislature for approval. If you weren’t able to sign the petition or email BESE before the public hearing, there is still time to make your voice heard. Click here.
Another contentious issue on BESE’s agenda this month was a discussion around the high school accountability model. In September, BESE considered controversial changes to the accountability model proposed by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). These changes would lower performance scores for many high schools by changing the way points are allocated. For example, it would require students to complete college-level courses in order for schools to get full credit. It would also eliminate any points for students that do not achieve mastery on the state assessment, regardless of the progress they’ve made or the work they’ve accomplished in the classroom. LFT, along with other stakeholders, pushed back on these changes and BESE did ultimately decide to delay any vote. This month, the issue came up again and once more, BESE decided to delay.
The Superintendent’s advisory council and the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents have put together an alternate high school accountability proposal, which is more well-rounded than what was presented by LDOE, but not without its own problems. Ultimately, neither the Superintendents nor the Department has included changes that would create a fair and meaningful teacher evaluation metric or reduce the workload on our teachers and school employees in their proposals.
Despite the narrative pushed by special interest lobbyists, teachers are not opposed to accountability. We all want feedback that can let us know how we’re doing and how we can get better. Plus, the majority of teachers are also parents who want information about how their children’s schools are performing as well. But a broken accountability system, which doesn’t give teachers and schools useful feedback and doesn’t honestly evaluate a school’s performance, isn’t helping anyone.
The accountability system that Louisiana uses to evaluate schools, teachers and students has been broken for years – it is in desperate need of improvement, but rushing the process and excluding the input of stakeholders will only make a flawed system worse.
On November 10th, BESE will hold a Special Meeting to finally approve changes to the accountability model. In the meantime, LDOE will continue to refine its proposal; however, they have still not incorporated the voices or feedback of classroom teachers. This new accountability model wouldn’t go into effect until 2025, but it has been rushed through without any real effort to include stakeholders in the process.
LFT will continue to advocate for a transparent and fair accountability system that truly meets the needs of students and teachers. Please keep an eye out for more information about this process as it unfolds.