Years of state commitment to education reform are now yielding positive results in Louisiana. Graduation rates are improving, along with ACT scores, and the achievement gap continues to lessen. There are more opportunities for school choice than most other states in the nation, and traditional public schools are responding to competition with additional course offerings such as Course Access and more relevant technical training in high school through programs such as JumpStart.
The challenge remains great. Our state still lags in national rankings of student readiness, and likely will continue to do so as standards and assessments are slowly but methodically raised to be more competitive with other states. Education and jobs are the paths out of poverty, and Louisiana’s citizens deserve a high-quality education and the opportunity to prosper. LABI will continue to advocate for students, taxpayers and employers to connect a more skilled workforce with high-wage, high-demand jobs in a 21st century economy.
Early Childhood Education
Issue: High-quality, affordable and available childcare greatly affects the productivity of Louisiana’s workforce. Early learning opportunities, particularly during the first three years of life when the brain is forming more than 1 million new neural connections every second, lay the foundation for school readiness. Too many working parents in Louisiana do not have access to affordable, safe, high-quality childcare environments, and too many children enter kindergarten without basic skills and knowledge for learning.
LABI Position: Support high-quality daycare and early childhood learning.
Reasoning: Unreliable childcare can increase absenteeism and job turnovers for parents in the workforce. Affordable, high-quality early childhood education can help not only employers and parents, but research shows it leads to improved school readiness for children, higher wages later in life, and a broad positive impact on society with improved public health, less crime, and better educated, skilled workers.
Issue: Louisiana’s unemployment crisis is not due to a lack of available jobs, but is largely the result of the shortage of qualified workers who are drug-free and possess both the soft and technical skills required in our rapidly changing economy. In particular, the state continues to have a sizeable “middle skills” gap where available jobs require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.
LABI Position: Support the transformation of Louisiana’s workforce development system to encourage partnerships across K-12 schools, higher education, and employers to create and fill high-demand, high-wage jobs. Encourage the coordinated and streamlined utilization of public funds and programs — federal, state and local — toward data-driven workforce development goals. Support programs in high school that offer dual enrollment, college credit, industry-based certifications, and skills training, including work-based learning opportunities. Advocate for targeted training and recruitment of skilled trades for men and women to combat the workforce shortage in critical sectors such as health care, construction, IT and manufacturing. Support initiatives to bring adult learners back into the workforce, including rational and effective re-entry programs and policies for ex-offenders. Overall, the voice and perspective of Louisiana employers must be included in all efforts from top-to-bottom in workforce development.
Reasoning: Louisiana has an urgent need for a skilled workforce that requires strong partnerships across the private and public sectors.
Public School K-12 Accountability System
Issue: It is critically important that the Louisiana business community continue to protect, support, and strengthen the K-12 public school accountability program from ongoing attacks from the educational bureaucracy.
LABI Position: Protect, support, and strengthen the K-12 accountability program. Stop efforts to eliminate or suspend accountability components such as a rigorous curriculum, statewide testing, or the assignment of letter grades to schools.
Reasoning: The foundation of a strong public-school system must include academically rigorous curriculum, tests to measure progress, and a plan to improve schools and districts with low student achievement.
Post-Secondary Governance: Support the creation of a single board for post-secondary education to manage and oversee the state’s four-year post-secondary education institutions as well as separate LCTCS board to govern the state’s community and technical college system, recognizing the unique mission of two-year institutions and their significant role in workforce development. Support recommendations to better define the role, scope and mission of each higher education institution, restructure governance to maximize efficiency, and reorganize campuses to support their missions and align them to regional economic development priorities where relevant.
Geographical proximity, enrollment, graduation rates, students’ performance on professional examinations, job placement and retention, duplication of programs and accreditation difficulties are starting points for consideration. Shared facilities, faculty, administrative systems and services, and supplies for technical training (secondary, technical college and four-year universities) should be part of the effort to consolidate and improve efficiency.
Post-Secondary Funding: Support tuition and fee autonomy. Implement performance-based funding in the state formula for higher education. Seek to maximize federal funding to creatively support students to complete their degrees and credentials.
Post-Secondary Reform: LABI recognizes the economic imperative to improve retention rates on college campuses and graduate many more students every year in both two and four-year institutions. LABI supports removing barriers to smooth the path for adults to re-enter college as well as campus-level innovations such as mentoring, mapping and stacking credentials, decreasing the time-to-degree, putting textbooks online, and reforming remedial coursework.
Paycheck Protection: Support legislation to reform or eliminate taxpayer-funded bodies (such as local school districts) from collecting membership dues or other monies for organizations that engage in political activities (such as teacher unions) through automatic payroll deduction.
Teacher Tenure: Support legislation to repeal tenure for new teachers. Oppose legislation that would expand tenure, sabbatical and extended leave benefits for all school employees, including post-secondary institutions. Oppose any legislation that would repeal or damage Act 1 of 2012.
High Standards: Support high standards and rigorous curriculum in mathematics, science, and English Language Arts (“ELA”). Support “Mastery” as the minimum student proficiency level in assessments (as opposed to the current “Basic”), which would put Louisiana students on par with students in other states for comparative purposes. Oppose “hold harmless” policies, curving of school letter grades, or other attempts to artificially inflate performance statistics.
Post-Secondary Alignment: LABI will encourage the continued development of a post-secondary education system (adult education, technical colleges, community colleges and university systems) that will be efficiently coordinated to provide shared resources and facilities, non-duplicated offerings and articulation agreements. This system should be tailored in each region of the state to address the proper mix of special workforce training programs, vocational and technical training, industry-based certifications, two-year associate degrees and advanced degrees, and to provide a rapid response to changes in business. Development and direction of these systems should include input from the business community and include systems designed to measure the progress of each educational component, holding accountable those responsible for the success of their students. LABI encourages the state to adopt and fully implement higher admission standards for four-year universities, discontinue low-enrollment or duplicative programs, and improve articulation and transfer agreements from two-year to four-year schools.
Conflicts of Interest: Support legislation that would prohibit employees of local school systems from serving on BESE.
Local School Board Reform: Act 1 of the 2012 legislative session included local school board reforms, namely prohibiting school board members from making personnel decisions. Support additional legislation and policy that would encourage the focus of local school boards to be on improving failing schools and raising student academic achievement. Examine bureaucratic impediments to reform at the local school board level and support legislation that would require local school boards to be more accountable for the academic achievement of the students in their districts.
Career and Technical Education: Continue to support K-12 schools and community colleges as they seek to improve the delivery of skills training in partnership with Louisiana employers. LABI supports improvements to the JumpStart program to incentivize training and certification for students in fields with high-demand, high-wage jobs.
Adult Education: Support legislation and policy to reorganize and improve the high school equivalency diploma, to provide “soft skills” or “employability” training, and to identify adults who can be recruited into post-secondary training and enter the workforce.
School Choice: Support expanded school choice for students. Other avenues to increase choice, such as education savings accounts, tax credits or deductions for tuition to attend nonpublic schools, should also be supported.
Charter Schools: Support the expansion of quality charter schools.
Teacher Quality: Support efforts to improve teacher quality, including policy changes to improve teacher preparation, in Louisiana. The classroom teacher is the single most important factor in and influence on students’ educational success, and LABI will work to strengthen the state’s professional teaching corps.
School Leadership: Support efforts to identify and recruit outstanding individuals with records of success into school leadership positions, especially principals and superintendents. Support alternative certification paths for principals that allow and encourage professionals and leaders in fields outside of education to consider becoming principals.
8(g): Support the integrity of the 8(g) fund and oppose any attempts to use those funds to supplant general fund revenues for education.
Classroom Funding: Re-examine the state’s school finance funding formula, the MFP, to determine how to get more money into the classroom, ensure that tax dollars follow the student, and determine the actual cost of delivering quality educational services.
TOPS: Support efforts to strengthen the academic requirements to receive the merit-based Tuition Opportunity Program for Students scholarship and oppose efforts to weaken current requirements. Support the substitution of ACT WorkKeys assessments (silver or higher level attainment) as an alternative eligibility requirement to the ACT score for TOPS-Tech scholarships, and support other TOPS-Tech revisions that contribute to building a trained, ready workforce.
High School Redesign/Dropouts: Support efforts to reduce Louisiana’s public school dropout rate and draw recent dropouts back into school or training, including the creation and expansion of courses that emphasize technical training.
Freedom to Work: Over time, a number of state entities have created artificial barriers to work in the form of occupational licensing. Unless a license is necessary for public health and safety, individuals should be “free to work.” LABI supports efforts to review occupational licensing and remove costly and time-consuming barriers when possible.
Education Flexibility: Support flexibility in education delivery models and learning modalities. In today’s fluid environment, it is important to acknowledge the need for educational flexibility in order to best meet a child’s learning needs inside and outside the classroom.
School Discipline: Support efforts to address the issue of school discipline and work to identify solutions to classroom management problems while keeping disruptive students in learning environments. Support efforts to create effective alternative schools for students who do not perform well in traditional school settings.
Parent/Teacher/Citizen Empowerment: Support efforts to provide parents, citizens and educators with factual information about education issues at all levels and teach them how to get involved and make the education system work for them and their children.
Collective Bargaining: Oppose legislation mandating collective bargaining and/or binding arbitration by any public body.
Lauren Gleason serves as Education and Workforce Development Council Director. In this capacity, she coordinates business involvement in education issues, ranging from early childhood to workforce development.
Director, Education & Workforce Development Council
Chair, Education & Workforce Development Council
Gulf Coast Bank & Trust