NEW ORLEANS — When it comes to the future of public school policy in Louisiana, the political math gets complicated and party lines blur.
The new governor will appoint three members of the 11-member state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Eight other BESE members are being elected from districts around the state.
The board sets and implements education policy and hires the state education superintendent but is also subject to laws passed by a 105-member state House and 39-member Senate.
Voters make their choices for governor, for the eight elected board posts and for roughly 70 contested legislative races Saturday (or, if needed, in November runoffs). The election results will heavily influence education policies for the next four years.
And voters won’t be able to use political parties as a guide when it comes to issues such as whether to stick with Common Core education standards; the state’s test-heavy school accountability system; and a growing reliance in Louisiana on independently run charter schools and government-funded private school tuition vouchers.
“We’ve seen support for these policies from people across the political spectrum,” Stephanie Deselle, who works on education issues for the nonpartisan Council for a Better Louisiana, said in an interview.
The governor’s race provides an example. The only major Democratic candidate in the race, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, has the support of the two major teacher unions. The unions, traditionally Democratic allies, are critical of Louisiana’s embrace of Common Core education standards, many aspects of the accountability program and the growth of charter schools.
“Common Core continues an over-reliance on testing that feeds into the evaluations of our teachers, our schools and our districts in a way that fundamentally misleads our parents about the quality of education that’s taking place in our schools,” Edwards said at an education forum earlier this year.
But Democrats are split on education issues, as evidenced by the fact that the group Democrats for Education Reform — which supports Common Core and the accountability system — isn’t making an endorsement in the governor’s race.
Meanwhile, the three major Republican candidates — Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Sen. David Vitter — support the state’s embrace of independently run charter schools, the accountability program and the growth of taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers for some students.
But Dardenne alone is supporting Common Core standards.
Those standards are supported by prominent business leaders in Louisiana, often Republican allies. Still, although the standards were developed by a consortium of states, some Republicans decry them as a means of federal government intrusion into local education matters.
The next governor stands to greatly influence the makeup of the board of education and its collective willingness to move forward with — or roadblock — current policies.
Party labels also are of little use in the individual BESE races. For example, in Republican-heavy District 6, where Common Core supporter Chas Roemer is stepping down, a coalition that includes the teacher unions has given “favorable” ratings to two Republicans and a libertarian. Roemer had endorsed Republican Jason Engen in the races, and the state’s largest business lobbying organization supports two candidates — Engen and Republican Laree Taylor.
For now, a majority of BESE members tend to support charters, vouchers, school accountability grades based on student test scores and Common Core. That majority includes two appointees of term-limited Gov. Bobby Jindal — appointees who stuck with Common Core even after Jindal reversed course and opposed the standards.
Common Core supporters beat back Jindal’s efforts to abandon Common Core last spring but agreed to a review and possible adjustment of the standards. BESE, including the three new members appointed by the governor and the eight who win the upcoming elections, will play a part in the process.
Candidates for all eight Board of Elementary and Secondary Education seats are on Saturday’s ballot in Louisiana. A look at how the races shape up:
DISTRICT 1: James Garvey, running for re-election in District 1, covering New Orleans suburbs north and south of Lake Pontchartrain, is endorsed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. Retired teacher Lee Barrios is challenging him, with endorsements from the teacher unions. Both are Republicans.
DISTRICT 2: Kira Orange Jones, the incumbent among three Democrats in New Orleans-based District 2, is backed by LABI and Democrats for Education Reform. She is executive director of Teach for America in New Orleans. The unions are backing Kara Washington, a public school assistant principal.
DISTRICT 3: If Chas Roemer in District 6 was the best-known voice supporting the changes won by self-styled reformers in recent years, then Lottie Beebe of Breaux Bridge, running for re-election in District 3, was perhaps the most vocal opponent. She is a critic of the state’s embrace of Common Core, charter schools and vouchers. Beebe is endorsed by the teacher unions; her opponent, Sandy LeBlanc Holloway, is endorsed by LABI. Both are Republicans. The district covers much of southeast Louisiana, including coastal parishes.
DISTRICT 4: Three Republicans are running in northwest Louisiana’s District 4, where school principal Mary Harris was appointed to finish an unexpired term. Harris, a Common Core opponent, is listed as a “favorable candidate” by the unions as she seeks a full term. So is teacher and Common Core critic Glynis Johnston. LABI is backing Tony Davis.
DISTRICT 5: Another north Louisiana seat is being vacated by Common Core supporter Jay Guillot. LABI is endorsing candidate Gary Jones in District 5; the unions, Johnny Fatheree. Both are Republicans.
DISTRICT 6: Perhaps the highest-profile BESE member to support Common Core multistate education standards has been Chas Roemer, but he is stepping down from his post representing Baton Rouge-based District 6. Roemer recently endorsed Jason Engen, a Republican, who also is endorsed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. The association supports Common Core and has endorsed teacher Laree Taylor. Teacher unions — which criticize Common Core as well as the state’s test-reliant school accountability system — have given favorable ratings to three candidates: libertarian education blogger Jason France and Republicans Kathy Edmonston and Etta Licciardi.
DISTRICT 7: Teacher Holly Boffy of Lafayette has been a supporter of charters, the accountability program and Common Core. She is endorsed by LABI for re-election in District 7. Fellow Republican Mike Kreamer is challenging her and has the union endorsement.
DISTRICT 8: Democrats for Education Reform and business interests are backing Democrat Jada Lewis in a bid to oust union-backed incumbent Democrat Carolyn Hill in District 8.