Sen. Troy Brown, center left, D-Geismer, shakes hands with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, center right, in the Senate Chamber, shortly before the end of the 2012 legislative session on Monday. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 05, 2012 7:43 PM
Another regular session of the Louisiana Legislature has come and gone with a wide range of results.
If for no other reason, this session will be remembered for the hallmark education reform that Gov. Bobby Jindal herded to successful completion.
The package of new laws included linking tenure for K-12 teachers to student performance and requiring new teachers to get a top ranking on an evaluation scale five out of six years to attain tenure. It also provided for tougher job performance standards for school superintendents and for unified oversight and evaluation of pre-k schools.
The most controversial piece, though, was the provision for students from low-income households to receive vouchers to help pay for their move, if the choose, from low-performing public schools to private schools.
‘‘The education reforms approved by lawmakers are truly major and the significance of them is hard to overestimate,’’ said Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana. ‘‘If we give them time for work, they will make a positive difference in public education.’’
Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan promised, though, to file suit over the voucher plan, contending that the state cannot divert public money to private schools.
The governor’s sweeping reform for the state employee retirement system, meanwhile, bordered on failure. One legislator said the governor was on his second honeymoon with his education package, but that didn’t carry over to the reform package.
It was likely doomed from the outset because it was over-reaching and too punitive to those state employees who were closing in on retirement age. Jindal’s proposal to raise employees’ contributions to their pension costs also went down in flames.
What did survive was a 401(k)-style retirement plan, aka a ‘‘cash balance’’ account that new state employees will enter.
Meanwhile, the budget became, according to state Sen. Dan ‘‘Blade’’ Morrish, R-Jennings, the 800-pound gorilla in the room.
Much to the chagrin of a minority of principled conservatives in the House, including state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, the budget was balanced by using more than $200 million from the state’s rainy day fund and $300 million in one-time money.
The balancing act fostered the obligatory back-slapping by some lawmakers and Jindal, but other legislators suggest there’s smoke and mirrors involved and mid-year cuts will definitely be the order of the day because there’s more fiction in this budget than should be.
Public universities in Louisiana have already been told to prepare for $66 million worth of cuts. Can health care and public hospitals be far behind?
And that, unfortunately, muddies any good that came out of this session.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.