Louisiana Senate Committee Rejects Bill to Let Schools Opt Out of State Standards

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In an echo of the contentious Common Core debates of past years, the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday rejected a bill that would have allowed local school districts to opt out of state standards and testing.

Senate Bill 128 was deferred over the objection of its author, Shreveport Democratic Sen. John Milkovich, most likely killing the measure for the session. Milkovich said it was the fourth time he had tried to allow districts to opt out of the state standards.

Louisiana adopted the controversial Common Core standards under the leadership of current Education Superintendent John White and former Gov. Bobby Jindal, who later turned against the standards. The state adopted new standards in 2016, though Milkovich said the current standards are almost identical to Common Core.

His bill would have required school boards, after receiving a petition from 10 percent of the district’s registered voters, to hold an election to decide whether state standards will be used in district schools. Charter school governing authorities would hold a vote of parents with children enrolled in the school.

"The Common Core is an academic disaster," Milkovich said.

Louisiana students were tied for last on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2017. Milkovich described Common Core as an effort funded by out-of-state millionaires and billionaires, particularly Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg, to undermine family values and promote abortion and atheism.

Kathy Edmonston, a member of the Board of Elementary Education who ran for the office promising to oppose Common Core, said the standards have led to excessive testing of Louisiana students. There is only one state-mandated test per year covering four subjects, lawmakers said, though many districts hold other tests to check students’ progress during the school year.

Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, pointed to a fiscal note created by legislative staff that warned allowing schools to deviate from state standards could lead to the loss of $600 million in annual federal grants.

"Do you agree that it’s traumatic to the structure of education in Louisiana to lose $600 million?" Appel asked.

"I think what’s more traumatic is trashing the values of Louisiana," Milkovich said.

Detractors also said consistent standards across schools and districts are needed to ensure accountability.

Senators also rejected Milkovich’s Senate Bill 120, meant to fight against bullying. Milkovich said his bill might have protected children from his area who he said killed themselves after being bullied over time and the school system failed to protect them.

Among other aspects, the bill would require schools to keep records of bullying incidents and provide a copy to law enforcement if the bullying created an imminent risk of harm to a student. It would allow teachers to use "reasonable force" to remove offending students if necessary.

"This is for schools where the administration has fallen down and no one does anything," Milkovich said. "This is an immunity bill that protects the right of teachers to protect students."

But opponents noted the state and districts already have anti-bullying policies. They worried the bill’s scope was overly broad and subjective, and that teachers who attempt to physically remove a student might be subject to legal action.