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Louisiana Enacts Sweeping Education Reforms
posted by: Alix | April 17, 2012, 09:13 PM   

Governor Bobby Jindal has taken center stage in the education world this spring via a new education overhaul plan aimed at expanding choice, removing barriers to entry for charter schools, and reforming tenure in the state of Louisiana. In a plan being hailed as the "new standard" for education reform, Governor Jindal is expected sign both reform bills into law later this week.

Called "smart, comprehensive, and innovative," by the National Journal, the bills are designed to increase choice for families and expand upon an already successful program active in the New Orleans area. The state will leverage the popular program by offering choice to students in other struggling school systems throughout Louisiana. The policy will loosen income-eligibility requirements for middle-income families in struggling schools and offer students the option to use a portion of their per-pupil funding to take individual courses online or through local community colleges.

In a nod to critics, John White, Louisiana's superintendent of education expressed the Governor's desire not to create a voucher system but instead, "create a system of choice and competition, one based on the decisions and needs of families." This law will allow students and families the ability to "choose from a marketplace" of options, according to Mr. White.

Among the other reforms, the law will create a "parent trigger" option, which would allow parents in a low-performing school to transfer control of the school to the state-run Recovery School District, if at least 50% of parents vote to do so. The policy has grown popular in California as a last effort to turnaround struggling schools.

Charter schools will also be affected by the new laws. While the charter school movement currently experiences regulatory barriers to entry, the state board of education will now have the power to approve new charter authorizers, such as nonprofits and public universities.

With regard to policies affecting teachers directly, Louisiana law will allow superintendents to base compensation on performance and academic preparation in hard-to-staff areas, rather than on level of education or years of service. The new policy will also eliminate seniority as a factor in layoff decisions, otherwise known as "last in, first out" or "LIFO."

While the bills were met with strong pushback from teacher union leadership, Mr. White indicated that the Governor heard from hundreds of teachers throughout the process who supported the new policies, including the controversial choice expansion provision. The measures will "shift the paradigm," he said, for how teachers are evaluated and reward excellent teachers for performance and the ability to staff high-need positions.

Although Louisiana is just the latest state focusing on education reform policies, experts maintain this plan will be the new standard for choice and innovation nationwide.

What do you think about Louisiana's new reforms?
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