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BESE Report January 2015

BESE defers expensive teacher retirement study

In a rare move, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education overruled a recommendation by one of its own committees to fund an expensive study of the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana’s Unfunded Accrued Liability.

On Tuesday, BESE’s Administration and Finance Committee voted to okay a $142,000 study of the UAL by LSU economist Jim Richardson. But the next day, the full board voted to defer action on the contract at least until March.

That vote came after State Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell), who chairs the House Retirement Committee, publicly questioned the need for the study.

Rep. Pearson said that all of the information that could be collected by Richardson has already been compiled by the Legislative Fiscal Office. BESE’s study, he said, would be a waste of money.

The UAL is the difference between cash that the retirement system has on hand versus the amount it would have to pay out if all current and future retirement debts. TRSL’s debt is estimated to be about $12 billion.

The UAL initially grew because the state failed to pay its share of the fund’s costs when other, underfunded retirement systems such as the LSU, the Orleans Parish School Board and school lunch retirement systems merged with TRSL.

A 1987 Constitutional Amendment required the UAL to be actuarially sound. The debt was restructured in 2009, and in 2014 the Legislature increased the amount of excess investment earnings that must be applied to system debt.

Report accepted on Type 2 charter funding

BESE accepted a report that raised eyebrows among critics because it dealt with the funding of Type 2 charter schools, an issue currently being litigated in district courts.

Type 2 charters can gain approval by the state after their applications have been rejected by local school boards. School boards have sued because they say the schools, over which they have no control, drain local funds that have been approved by voters for specific purposes.

The report seems to suggest that local education authorities should ask voters to approve taxes that are not dedicated for any particular purpose. Controversy arose because local taxes are harder to pass if voters don’t have a clear idea how the money will be used. Critics say this advice could lead to less overall support for public education.

LSU gets contract to assist with new special education law

BESE awarded a $251,000 contract to the LSU Human Development Center to help implement a new law that is intended to help some special education students earn a high school diploma.

The act passed in the 2014 legislative session allows Individual Education Program teams to develop alternate paths to high school diplomas for special education students who qualify. The new IEPs could grant diplomas to special education students who fail standardized tests that are required for graduation.

The new IEPs were supposed to be in place at the start of this school year, but school districts received little guidance from the Department of Education on how to implement the law.

The contract calls for the Human Development Center to provide guidance and training for IEP teams that are implementing the new plan.

Report says black students suspended and expelled more often than others

BESE received a report saying that African-American students are disciplined at a higher rate than other groups.

The report said that although black students make up 44 percent of the student population, they receive 63 percent of in-school suspensions, 67 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 68 percent of expulsions.

The report, based on a legislative resolution sponsored by Sen. Sharon Weston Broome (D-Baton Rouge), mirrors nationwide data. Across the country, there have been calls to establish “restorative justice” plans that rely more on remediation than on suspension and expulsion.

Archdioceses and A+PEL get state funds to promote vouchers

Among the contracts approved without debate by BESE were some that provide state funds for three Catholic school systems to “expand capacity” for students who attend school on state-funded vouchers.

For one of those contracts, worth $75,058, the Archdiocese of Baton Rouge will partner with the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL) to “increase selected schools’ capacity to serve more Louisiana Scholarship Program students.”

The Archdiocese of New Orleans will partner with CBT/McGraw Hill Education on a $163,525 contract, and the Archdiocese of Shreveport will partner with the School Leadership Center on its $110,998 contract.

New training ordered for pre-school teachers

BESE decided that pre-school teachers, who currently have few requirements other than that they be at least 18 years old, must receive training in the care and development of young children.

Pre-school teachers will be required to earn at least a child development associate credential by 2019.