“I’m here to learn what is going on so that I know how to legislate,” said Boustany. “Washington cannot legislate in a vacuum.”
Boustany’s roundtable featured discussions on educational topics on both the state and federal level. He invited area state legislatures to join him in order to help field questions and concerns area educators had. Among those in attendance were state senators Nick Gautreaux and Elbert Guillory and several state representatives including Jack Montoucet.
“Last year we had quite a few questions that were on the state level that I couldn’t answer,” Boustany explained, “so I invited some of our state legislators here to better help answer your questions.”
Boustany opened the discussion with a few general remarks. According to the congressman, no action or reauthorization of No Child Left Behind programs have been taken thus far in the 111th Congress and he doesn’t expect the remaining three weeks to be any different. Boustany does believe that the next Congress, which will not convene until January after the newly elected members are sworn in, to be a different story, however.
The talk then shifted to current legislations effects on local schools. Boustany discussed a bill that will be voted on tomorrow in the House of Representatives that could give Louisiana schools $147 million for education in the 2010-11 school year. However, if schools do not use the money provided, the federal government will recoup the funds and place them elsewhere. The money given to states is formula-based with one of the factors being population, in total, the federal government could give $10 billion to its states as an education stimulus if the House passes the bill.
The “Race to the Top” program also saw discussion throughout the roundtable. Louisiana missed out of the first round because not every school district enrolled. The state once again does not have 100 percent enrollment in the program due to state parameters. Of those in attendance, St. Landry Parish is still undecided, but Vermilion and Acadia parishes have already opted out. “Race to the Top” has four components: turn around, value-added, reconstitution and transformation. The state is requiring that school districts participating must participate in all four components in order to qualify, which is why St. Landry has reservations.
Under the new guidelines, public schools in Louisiana not participating in the program must implement the new evaluation guidelines within three years, while those participating must do so immediately.
According to Boustany, the state is “getting away from the basics” by doing these things and is getting in its own way in some cases education-wise.
Senator Gautreaux fielded many of the educators questions about state issues, including the Red Tape Reduction amendment, which stated that any state-mandated program that is no longer funded by the state is now once again up to local school districts, and new curriculum measures that have mandated many schools to add teachers and classes but did not provide money to do so.
“Hopefully at some point these roundtables will solve some of these problems. And hopefully we can get back to the kids, which is what is important,” said Boustany.
Superintendent John E. Bourque, who was recognized as 2010 Superintendent of the Year in the state and board members Doug Lacombe and Gene Daigle from Acadia Parish were among the Acadia Parish education personnel in attendance.