Baton Rouge - Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards released specifics on the legislation he will offer to improve K-12 educational outcomes during the legislative session that starts April 10.  

“My commitment to do better by all of our public school students and teachers is reflected in each proposal included in my legislative agenda, and I strongly believe they will deliver the kinds of changes that will bolster academic achievement in our state,” said Gov. Edwards. “Bipartisan support for these measures already exists, demonstrating a willingness to work together to find common ground on policies that can have a direct and positive impact on our schools, thereby improving the lives of our children and their futures.”

Senate Bill 13 by Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish (R-District 25) closes the current loophole in the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, which allows kindergarten students who are zoned to attend A or B rated public schools to obtain scholarships to attend private schools. Under the current law, the scholarships are only available to 1st-12th grade students who attend public schools rated C, D or F. This bill establishes the same qualification for kindergartners.

“This puts kindergartners, who are among our most vulnerable students and require additional attention, on a level playing field with other children who participate in the voucher program,” said Sen. Morrish. “I’m proud to have Gov. Edwards include this bill in his legislative agenda.”

House Bill 79 by Rep. Franklin Foil (R-District 70) would prohibit the use of corporal punishment in all public elementary and secondary schools for students with disabilities. Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-District 5) will file a similar measure in the Senate.   

“Many people may be surprised to learn that at this time school districts have the option to administer corporal punishment to children with disabilities,” said Rep. Franklin Foil. “That is unacceptable, and I agree with Governor Edwards that this option should be taken off the table. This bill makes it clear that there are better and more appropriate ways to meet the behavioral needs of children with disabilities.”

More than 500 students with disabilities received some form of corporal punishment during the 2015-2016 school year, according to the latest data from the Louisiana Department of Education. Statewide, there is no consensus on how to administer the punishment or when it should be used. The reasons vary from parish to parish. This law would eliminate that problem altogether. 

Corporal punishment has been banned in 28 states and Washington, D.C. and has been abandoned by individual districts in many others, according to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). In 2016, the U.S. DOE released guidelines emphasizing the requirement that schools provide positive behavioral support to students with disabilities who need them. It also clarified that the repeated use of disciplinary actions may suggest that many children with disabilities may not be receiving appropriate behavioral interventions and supports.

House Bill 20 by Rep. Ed Price (D-District 58) would allow schools impacted by a natural catastrophe or disaster to seek an exemption with the state superintendent of education and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) from the required 360 minutes of instructional time per school day. According to damages reported to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), 92 public and private school campuses were damaged by the flood in August, and 45 school campuses were damaged in the March flooding.

“Many schools were devastated due to the severe flooding last year, and neither the school board nor BESE had the authority to allow administrators the flexibility they needed when it came to meeting the daily required instructional times,” said Rep. Ed Price. “Schools were forced to operate in the few buildings that were available and as a result, different schools had to hold some classes in the morning and others in the afternoon. There was no way the students could fulfill their class time obligations. This legislation ensures that students will not be penalized for not meeting those requirements when their schools have been damaged by a natural catastrophe or disaster, and it will allow school leaders to make adjustments to their instructional time when necessary. ”

Under this bill, a school must submit to the state superintendent of education for approval the following information: documented information explaining why the school could not meet such requirements, any efforts made by the school toward meeting the requirements and a revised school calendar for the affected school year.

Rep. Frank Hoffman (R-District 15) will author legislation that addresses Louisiana’s current system for using value-added data to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers and administrators within the Compass evaluation system. It’s called the Value-Added Assessment Model (VAM) and requires that 35% of the overall evaluation be based on data derived through that model. The proposed legislation would give local school districts, boards and administrators a much larger role in the evaluation process by allowing them the discretion to use data derived from a value-added assessment, along with other pertinent data to inform their decisions in the process of evaluating a teacher.

“The Value-added model of teacher evaluation was put in place several years ago with the idea that it would be an effective method of evaluation,” said Rep. Hoffman. “Since then, there have been several concerns about the accuracy and consistency of this process. The local school districts will still be provided with VAM information, but this bill will give them the authority to establish guidelines and use the VAM data as they see fit. ”

Gov. Edwards’ full legislative agenda for the 2017 Regular Legislative Session will be unveiled throughout the week. The education agenda can be found here. This page will be updated throughout the week with additional proposals from the governor.