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$3.7 billion MFP approved with inflation factor halved

BESE Report – March 2015

$3.7 billion MFP approved with inflation factor halved

The Board of Elementary and Secondary education on Friday gave its approval to a $3.7 billion Minimum Foundation program formula. The spending plan, which goes to the Legislature in April, is less than was requested by the MFP task Force, but more than Gov. Bobby Jindal included in his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year.

LFT President Steve Monaghan, who is a member of the MFP Task Force, urged BESE members to reject the formula proposed by Superintendent of Education John White. Monaghan said that the state is facing a budget crisis created by the Jindal administration’s refusal to consider anything that could be considered a tax, while at the same time defending billions of dollars handed out by the state every year in tax exemptions.

“There is a book of tax exemptions that is thicker than the Good Book,” Monaghan told the board.

The plan approved by BESE includes a 1.375% increase in K-12 spending instead of the 2.75% inflation factor that the task force recommended.

BESE Member Jay Guillot, who chairs the board’s finance committee, said the proposal includes a $5.4 million increase in funding for high-needs student programs, and a $2.6 million increase in course choice funds.

Superintendent White said that the small increase in the MFP will protect the teacher pay raise that was granted last year.

Monaghan said that the teacher raise, which amounted to between $190 and $1,200 depending on the district, was inadequate given that the state had frozen K-12 spending in preceding years. Other school employees, he said, have received nothing from the state since the first year of the Jindal administration.

Saying that the state is held hostage by the tax breaks approved by lawmakers over the years, Monaghan told board members, “It is obscene to say that we can’t meet the obligations we have at the same time that we are giving away billions in tax exemptions.”

The base per-student amount in the MFP proposal is $3,961 per student, and is weighted to provide more for students with special needs.

The legislature has the responsibility to approve or reject the formula, but may not change it.

BESE suspends Value Added consequences for one more year

Following the recommendation of a special panel, BESE suspended for one more year any consequences for teachers whose Value Added Model scores are considered unsatisfactory.

The decision was one of a series of recommendations made by the Act 240 Subcommittee, created by the legislature to investigate teacher evaluation issues and suggest improvements.

Superintendent of Education John White said that the delay will allow his department to create a two-year baseline score to help determine the proper use of value-added measurements in evaluating teachers.

BESE members balked at approving a set of evaluation changes suggested by White that were not part of the Act 240 Subcommittee recommendations. Those three changes mainly affected the roles that principals play in evaluating teachers. But because they were not vetted by the subcommittee, Board Member Jay Guillot moved that they be returned to the panel for further study.

Changes to evaluations approved by BESE include:

  • Removal of the override provision requiring any teacher who is rated “ineffective” in either the qualitative or quantitative component of the evaluation to be rated “ineffective” overall. Principals will have authority to make that decision.
  • Principals’ evaluations will be partly based on school performance score growth.
  • Principals will receive support in improving student performance, conducting evaluations and building curricula.

Move to stop school letter grades fails

As the changes to teacher evaluation were being discussed, several BESE member said it is time to move away from assigning single letter grades to schools. Louisiana is one of just 16 states that label schools with letter grades.

LFT President Steve Monaghan called the letter grade system “a policy wreck” because it fails to take into account all of the factors affecting learning, and can give an unfair and inaccurate label to a school.

BESE Member Jane Smith moved to abolish letter grades, partly because of the affect that large numbers of students opting out of standardized tests could have on school performance scores.

As the motion failed on a 4-7 vote, Member Carolyn Hill said that every parent in the state should converge on the capitol when the legislative session begins, “to fight for children.”

In related action, the board voted to approve a single letter system for preschools, starting in the 2016-17 school year. The rating will replace the current star system of grading preschool programs.

BESE won’t consider an opt-out policy until after testing ends

Despite mounting evidence that the opt out movement could disrupt standardized testing later this month, BESE decided against setting proactive policies to help school systems cope with potential problems.

As has been the case at BESE meetings for much of the past year, Common Core State Standards and related tests were the most contentious issues at the March BESE meeting. Witnesses of various political stripes spoke against Common Core and PARCC tests. Their requests ranged from abandoning Common Core altogether to ensuring that there would be no negative consequences if students opt out of the tests.

LFT is on record as urging BESE to develop an opt-out policy for school districts. LFT President Steve Monaghan recently said, “The burden is on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Education to promulgate uniform rules and procedures for students who either choose to opt out or refuse to take these tests.”

The debate spanned two days of BESE hearings. On Wednesday, a committee recommended taking no position on opt out until test results are in and the number of students who refused to take the test is known.

Superintendent of Education John White said that federal education law requires all students to be accountable, that state law requires all children to attend school, and that any child who does not take the test will receive a zero. Principals, he said, have the responsibility to discuss the issue with parents and “set appropriate accommodations” for those who oppose the tests.

That did not satisfy witnesses like Airline High School Principal Jason Rowland. “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” asked the Bossier Parish principal. “We don’t have guidance in how we roll out this curriculum. Parents have lost faith in the system.”

White responded that there may be just a few students statewide who opt out of the tests; not enough to call for a new policy.
But at Friday’s meeting of the full board, Louisiana School Boards Association executive Director Scott Richard reported that 776 students in Calcasieu Parish alone have already signaled that they will not take the test.

“We are asking for a proactive, uniform process on opt out,” Richard said. “Right now, districts are left on their own.”

Administrators and educators want to know how school and district performance scores will be affected if large numbers of students opt out of the tests and are given zeroes. It has been determined that this year’s scores will not have an impact on teacher evaluations.

BESE’s answer? Districts are on their own this year, and will have to cope with the issue as best they can.

New panel to tackle special education diploma issue

A new committee will tackle the thorny issue of a new state law regarding high school diplomas for some students with disabilities.

Act 833 of 2014 was supposed to guarantee that some students with individualized education programs could earn a diploma if their IEP team determines that they have met appropriate standards.

The law was supposed to go into effect last August, but education leaders have been unable to develop guidelines for IEP teams to consider when making the diploma decision.

BESE President Chas Roemer said the law puts BESE in a collision course with federal education law, which requires all students to meet high standards to earn a diploma. The state law runs contrary to federal law, Roemer said.

Two federal education officials have written that the law could result in sanctions and a loss of funds if it lowers graduation standards.

But the bill’s author, Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington) disagreed.

“It is about students who cannot achieve the same standards that I can,” Schroder said. “It is about achieving whatever standard they are capable of achieving. That’s where the IEP team comes in.”

White said that a new committee will consider two questions: Which students can be eligible for diplomas, and what details about the program should be provided for students.

The panel, which will include Rep. Schroder as well as state education officials and special education teachers, will report to BESE at the April meeting. LFT President Steve Monaghan has a seat on the committee.

One charter school to move; another to close

BESE resolved longstanding issues with two charter schools by allowing one to move and shuttering the other.

Milestone Academy, which originated in Uptown New Orleans, but moved to Gretna and then to East Jefferson, will relocate to the former St. James Major High School in Gentilly.

Milestone was threatened with closure last fall, when it lost a lease on a Jefferson Parish school building. Superintendent of Education John White first gave the school a December, 2014 deadline to find a new home, but extended the stay until this month. The school’s board finalized an agreement with the Archdiocese of New Orleans to move into the empty Gentilly building.

Lagniappe Academies in New Orleans met a different fate, and was ordered closed by BESE.

The Department of Education reported that the school, located in the Treme neighborhood, failed to provide appropriate services for its special education students and falsified records to conceal that breach. The DOE said there is also evidence that the school’s “C” letter grade was undeserved.