The House of Representatives Thursday approved minor Senate changes to two bills designed to overhaul public education in the state, the last hurdle to clear before Gov. Bobby Jindal signs them into law. A major victory for Jindal, who vowed immediately after his re-election to make school reform his top priority, the bills make it tougher for teachers to get tenure and create a statewide voucher program for public school children to attend private schools. The latter measure is likely to drastically expand the state’s charter school system.

Over the objections of teachers’ unions and thousands of teachers who have been converging on the Legislature in recent days, the House voted 60-43 on the tenure bill and 60-42 on the voucher bill.

In its just-released “A Final Perspective on Education Reform,” below is what the Council for a Better Louisiana had to say after the House vote, which took place around noon Thursday:
In a way, you have to feel sorry for the average citizen trying to understand just what the passage of the two major tenets of the governor’s education reform package really means. Supporters hailed it as a new day for public schools in Louisiana. Opponents countered with black “judgment day” t-shirts and suggested the destruction of public education is at hand.

CABL clearly puts itself in the first category. We see the passage of these reforms as a huge opportunity to significantly transform public education in Louisiana, but we also realize that opportunities must be seized to be successful, and that requires leadership.

First, to those mourning the imminent death of public education, that’s simply not true. Whether certain groups want to admit it or not, public education in Louisiana has been broken for a long time. These reforms don’t respond by killing it. Instead they help hasten the change that is needed if it’s to survive in a way worth keeping.

Let’s be honest, hundreds of thousand of kids are not going to wake up tomorrow and leave public schools to enroll in private schools. Teachers aren’t going to be joining the unemployment rolls in droves because of possible loss of tenure. And charter schools are not going to take over the universe. But that’s what the promoters of “judgment day” would have you believe.

On the other hand, the reforms aren’t a panacea, either. The passage of this legislation in-and-of-itself won’t save our public schools. What the reforms do, however, is give school leaders new tools to do things differently and put the right teacher in every classroom. But they’re just tools, and if superintendents and principals don’t embrace the new authority and flexibility they’re being given, and if school boards don’t focus on improving student achievement at every level, then the reforms by themselves are still not enough.

Are the reforms perfect? Of course not. Reform measures are seldom perfect and they’re always a work in progress. That shouldn’t scare us. What should scare us is doing anything that resembles maintaining the status quo. The opponents of reform would have people believe that we shouldn’t do anything until we “get it right.” Translation: we shouldn’t do anything.

Yes, these reforms are big. In fact, in an environment where the word reform is bandied around a lot, they’re probably bigger than most people realize. But that’s good. Louisiana needs big reform in public education. Despite the rhetoric, it’s not doomsday. But following the lead of the doomsayers might very well have been.

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