Louisiana should pay effective teachers more. It should improve the tests students take and the state’s "confusing” system for rating schools. And it should make it easier for families to choose the best school for their children — whether traditional, charter, or homeschool.
Those are some of the recommendations in a brief report, released Friday, by one of several groups that Gov. Jeff Landry convened to advise him on a range of policy issues. The K-12 education group was led by Eddie Rispone, a Louisiana businessman and former Republican candidate for governor, and Rebecca Boniol, a charter school board member.
The recommendations touch on several issues that have been hotly debated in Louisiana over the past few years, including teacher compensation, school accountability and school choice.
Louisiana students have improved their performance on some tests in recent years, but still remain near the bottom of the pack nationally — a longstanding challenge the report attributes to “policy failures.”
“Children in Louisiana are not receiving the education that they deserve,” it says.
The proposals generally align with policies favored by Republicans, but are notably short on specifics. Instead, they leave the details to the Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, and Landry, a Republican who is expected to introduce a package of education proposals before the main legislative session begins in March.
The suggestions mostly steer clear of recent school culture-war issues. Debates over what students learn about gender, race, and sexuality have dominated national politics in recent years. Landry echoed conservative talking points on the issue when he called for "education without indoctrination” during his inaugural speech this month. Yet his education advisory council chose not to wade into the controversy, focusing instead on more traditional Republican priorities.
“I think these are really strong, bold recommendations to address the biggest challenges that our education system has,” said Erin Bendily, vice president for policy and strategy at Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank in Louisiana. Bendily was part of the advisory group, whose full list of members the governor’s office has not released.
Here are some of the group’s proposals:
Expand school choice: Parents should be “granted flexibility” to choose the school or program that meets their children’s needs, the recommendations say. The report mentions several alternatives to traditional public schools, including home schooling, charter schools, and “micro schools,” which are small, loosely structured private schools. The proposals do not explicitly call for a choice program that Republicans in Louisiana and across the country have been aggressively pushing in recent years: education savings accounts, which give families public money to help pay for private school or other learning expenses.
Reward effective teachers: The state should make the teaching profession more attractive by making it easier to get licensed and providing “competitive compensation,” the report says. In Louisiana, where teachers earn less than in most Southern states, the Legislature approved $2,000 bonuses for teachers last year, but not permanent raises. The report calls for better pay for some teachers, including those who teach in high-need schools or perform well in the classroom.
Revamp school ratings: Louisiana gives schools annual scores and letter grades based largely on student test scores and graduation rates. The report says the system confuses parents and doesn’t accurately measure student learning. The state school board has in recent years considered changes, but so far has agreed mainly to study the current system. The recommendations don’t propose specific changes, but Bendily said one fix would be to give schools more credit for raising students’ scores even if they remain low.
“When schools are asked to take on the challenge of educating kids who are far behind,” she said, “we need to make sure that when they make progress, it’s recognized and rewarded.”