Perhaps it's just me, but the tone of this trailer for Learning Matters upcoming documentary on New Orleans public schools seems a tad too hopeful, and a bit dismissive of the activists and parents who have experienced serious flaws in the current "system of schools" here.
I do have more to say on the BESE board elections, but I have to resign myself to one more week of making sure my cracked ankle bone doesn't realign itself while it heals. What I will direct you to is why the sleeper campaigns that flew under the radar in the middle of this past Saturday's elections were much more important than you would think.
"BESE races are where it's at," said Timmy Teepell, the governor's campaign manager, but also the prime mover behind the GOP Victory Fund, which is spending heavily in BESE campaigns. The Republicans are joined by a deep-pocketed coalition of business groups that are active for the first time in education elections.
They are opposed by the Coalition for Public Education, comprised of the statewide organizations for teachers, superintendents and school boards, which are using their extensive grass-roots networks to counter the financial advantage of the conservative coalition.
As one consultant put it, the Republicans and business PACs, with all their money, can only marginally improve the conservative majority in the Legislature, but they can have a profound effect on BESE by turning just a couple of seats while defending the ones held by their allies.
Why that now matters so much to business leaders is their commonly held view that the greatest barrier to economic development in Louisiana is not the tax structure, government regulation or the legal system but the shortage of skilled workers to fill available jobs and the more that could be created. The fastest way to change that is through better public schools, whether their kids attend them or not.
The business coalition is targeting two districts for turnover: in northeast Louisiana, where incumbent Keith Guice, a Monroe Democrat and former superintendent, is being challenged by Republican businessman Jay Guillot of Ruston; and in the southwest, where incumbent Dale Bayard of Lake Charles, who recently switched to Republican, faces GOP newcomer Holly Boffy, the 2010 state teacher of the year, from Lafayette Parish.
Those groups also are supporting Teach for America leader Kira Orange-Jones in an uphill race in the New Orleans-based district against incumbent Louella Givens, who, despite a $1.3 million IRS lien on her business and a DWI arrest this year, is backed by some local officials and the Louisiana Association of Educators and will be hard to beat.
The ultimate goal of the business coalition is to give Gov. Bobby Jindal a clear board majority that will enable him to hire the superintendent he wants and to press his agenda for charter schools and performance-based teacher evaluations. Changes in K-12 education figure to be the centerpiece of his legislative agenda in 2012, leading to a showdown with teacher unions and school boards over modifying tenure.
Why K-12 education matters so much to Jindal, for his future, is that, by the end of his second term, he hardly will be able to claim to be an effective governor if public education still drags in the rear of national rankings.
Add in NYC mayor (and head of NYC's public schools) Michael Bloomberg's nifty financial contribution to an anti-teachers' union PAC just a few days before this past Saturday's elections and anyone paying attention to what's going on with public education these days gets the idea that something's up. Since the abandonment of this state by viable Democratic party candidates, though, the best the state can muster is Runoff City in the BESE elections to let Jindal & Co. know we won't be taking his special interests lying down. If you are in one of those runoff districts, don't miss your chance to have your voice heard. Go vote.
Update, 10-25: The Daily Kingfish has more.