BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The fight over education reform in Louisiana really got started Wednesday at the Louisiana Capitol, with Gov. Bobby Jindal winning round one.
"The three bills you are considering today are truly historic bills, truly important bills," Jindal said. "These bills help to define who we are as a state."
After 16 hours of debate, the House Education Committee approved two of the three parts of the governor's proposed package.
The two bills moving forward are a teacher tenure revamp and the voucher proposal to let students from low to moderate income families attend private schools at taxpayer expense. Legislators spent about 11 hours debating the voucher bill. The bills now go to the full House.
Hearings are scheduled to continue Thursday when similar bills will be taken up by a Senate committee. A third part of the package still needs to be approved. It focuses on early childhood education.
Teachers against the proposed education reform bill rallied at the Capitol. Some arrived on the steps of the building as early as 6 a.m.
"If we get rid of tenure and they're able to lay off all veteran teachers, and I'm one of those veteran teachers, who the hell are going to teach the new teachers," one teacher posed to the crowd gathered.
"Good teachers have nothing to fear. These bills will give them a chance to be rewarded, to be compensated more, to be identified and recognized the way they should be. [For] teachers that want to improve, this will give them professional development, real-time data on how their students are doing [and] real opportunity to become even better teachers," Jindal explained.
Some lawmakers were not happy about how discussions on the proposed bills were handled.
"Folks are not going to have a fair hearing or the bills are not going to have a fair hearing because of fast-tracking this opportunity for people to hear the bills all in one day," said state Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge. "We've never done this before on such a major issue and fast-tracking it through the whole process is really not going to vet the bills as much as they should be vetted."
In fact, 113 amendments to the bill were introduced on the floor of the Capitol Tuesday night. The proposed changes led to a late night of work for the state's lawmakers.
A few school districts across the state decided to cancel classes Wednesday due to a high number of teacher absences. Many teachers told administrators they would not be at school because they were planning to attend a rally on the steps of the Capitol to express opposition to Jindal's plan.
Part of the governor's plan for education reform aims to keep teachers on their toes by rewarding those who show they can help Louisiana's state of education and removing those who have not shown improvement.
That means some teachers will be put on probation or lose their jobs based on how the state evaluates them. Some teachers are concerned they will be graded on how the school performs, rather than on their individual techniques in the classroom.