Reform bill would have allowed schools to request exemptions from top-down policies
State education reform efforts were dealt a defeat this week when a law passed last year granting public schools waivers from certain regulations was struck down in state court. State District Judge Mike Caldwell ruled that HB 1368, passed in the 2010 legislative session, was unconstitutional .
HB 1368 allowed public schools to request waivers of regulations from the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). It was championed by Governor Jindal and education reform advocates, but the Louisiana Federation of Teachers were ardently opposed to the notion of public schools receiving freedoms akin to those of charter schools.
A main point of the opposition’s challenge was that the legislature cannot abdicate its legal authority by deferring to BESE, nor can individual schools be exempted from uniform guidelines. Argued Steve Monaghan, President of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, “the Legislature could not abdicate its responsibility, could not punt it essentially to what is an administrative body.” Judge Caldwell agreed with this argument.
Despite claims that BESE could make arbitrary decisions which conflicted with union interests, the bill contained implicit safeguards which assured that requested waivers reflect the will of both the school and the local school board.
Judge Caldwell’s decision is unfortunate because schools benefit from increased flexibility to address their unique demands. Educational progress suffers when curriculum, class sizes, and faculty evaluations, among other facets, are constrained by a one-size-fits-all approach.
Governor Jindal’s office stated that it will appeal Judge Caldwell’s decision. Hopefully, proponents of reform will win out. If not, the Legislature could pass a modified version next year. Schools must adapt to the needs of their students to best serve them, and this cannot be done if restrictive rules are in place.
Jamison Beuerman is a contributing writer and policy analyst at the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on twitter @jbeuerman.