Teacher protest closes schools in Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. – Hundreds of Louisiana teachers converged on the state Capitol on Wednesday to try to give state lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bob Jindal a lesson in education reform.

They were protesting Jindal’s proposed changes to teacher evaluations, tenure and retirement plans, as well as charter school creation and regulation. Three bills encapsulating the changes were to be taken up by the House Education Committee.

At least four public school systems – Baker, St. Martin, Vermilion and East Baton Rouge – and several Baton Rouge charter schools canceled classes because teachers will be rallying at the Capitol today and tomorrow, according to local media reports. In other parishes, many teachers said they still planned to make the trip using personal days even though school won’t be cancelled; substitute teachers would be filling in.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said he expected between 500 and 1,000 teachers at the Capitol on Wednesday.

He accused the Jindal administration of trying to rush through legislation that harms teachers without giving sufficient time to closely examine the impact.

“The governor lit this fuse,” Monaghan told The Times-Picayune on Tuesday. “The governor chose to run his bills this week, not us. How can you expect, if we want to have a democracy, for people not to show up? The problem is not teachers exercising their rights; the problem is government trying to keep them from doing so.”

Jindal’s office questioned why teachers would come to the Capitol to protest a week before standardized tests are administered to decide whether some students advance or graduate.

“The reality is that action is needed now,” the governor’s office said in a statement Tuesday. “Forty-four percent of Louisiana’s public schools received a grade of D or F last year. Louisiana’s 4th and 8th graders ranked among the bottom in English and Math when compared to other states. In 2010 there were 230,000 students in Louisiana below grade level – one third of all students in public school.”

Jindal’s office issued a press release last week that said more than 100 local elected officials, including school board members, sheriffs, parish presidents, mayors and city council members endorse his school reform plan.

According to the Times-Picayune, the package of bills would:

“dramatically curtail tenure protections for new teachers and make it easier to fire existing ones; shift hiring and firing power from school boards to superintendents; pave the way for a significant increase in public charter schools; and create a program that uses the public school financing formula to pay private school tuition for certain low-income students.”

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