(The Center Square) — While there’s little doubt changes to Louisiana’s graduation policy will not become a reality, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision on a legislative vote to reject them could create significant issues for schools.
Edwards has 10 days from when he received notice of the Oct. 26 vote by the House Education Committee to act on the rejection of a policy approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to create a pathway to graduation for students who fail state tests. He can reverse the decision or allow the rejection to stand.
While Edwards reportedly supports the policy, a reversal to allow implementation would very likely be short-lived, with Governor-elect Jeff Landry and a majority of new BESE board members taking office in January who are strongly opposed.
“The way things stand now … everybody is watching to see what the governor is going to do,” Erin Bendily, vice president for policy and strategy at the Pelican Institute, told The Center Square. “If he chooses to act and basically allow the policy to go into effect … it’s going to set off a bunch of busy work (and sow confusion in schools) for a couple of months.”
Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, urged BESE to postpone its 6-5 vote earlier this month to approve a policy that would have allowed students not meeting the current graduation requirement of 10-38% of available points on state tests to complete a project or portfolio instead. The policy would have given students with a passing grade from their teacher a diploma that would have counted toward their school’s accountability rating score.
Harris, who chairs the House Education Committee, cited widespread opposition from parents, education advocates, Superintendent Cade Brumley, incoming lawmakers, Landry, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and business and policy groups for delaying the decision. When the board forged ahead anyway, Harris held an oversight hearing that resulted in the 8-3 decision to reject the policy now under review by the governor.
Critics contend the change would water down the state’s already low bar for graduation, dissuade schools from helping struggling students and further distort the state’s school accountability system. Proponents including current BESE President Holly Boffy and the state teacher and superintendent associations argue it would “increase opportunities for student success” for those who master the material but cannot pass state assessments at the “approaching basic” level.
Statewide, just over a third of Louisiana public high school students perform on grade level, yet 70% of schools are rated A or B.
Landry, who will appoint members to BESE, wrote to the oversight committee that the policy “does our students a grave injustice.”
“By lowering standards in education, we are effectively telling our children that they should not aspire to greatness, that they will never be successful, and they shouldn’t even bother to try,” he wrote. “This posturing accepts a status quo in which students leave school illiterate, unable to do basic math, and woefully unprepared for the world ahead of them.”
Harris, elected to BESE this month with other conservative candidates, told The Center Square he’s certain a majority of the new board will ensure the policy dies in January, if Edwards elects to put it into effect.
“BESE would take up a new notice of intent to reverse that decision,” he said. “I haven’t found anybody in the Legislature that’s really for it.”
Harris also noted provisions of the policy may violate a state statute that appears to prevent retroactive rules.
“I would hope (Edwards) would look at the issue brought up in the legislative oversight committee on the retroactivity of the rule,” he said.
Regardless of the outcome, Harris believes the initial intent of the policy to address struggles with English language learners — before it was expanded to all students —is something BESE should consider in January.
“That’s something that needs to be looked at,” he said. “It’s two separate issues, in my opinion.”