Education and legislation

The 2015 Legislative Session is now in the history books, and the business sector and taxpayers took it in the shorts again. The main difference is the Republicans are responsible this time. After a historic sweep of constitutional offices and both Legislative branches, they with a few exceptions proved themselves to be Democrat in practice.

Education is touted as the big winner. I disagree. Only educators won the legislative lottery. Here is my view on education reform. For the most part, it didn’t, isn’t, and won’t reform anything.

The main focus was on passing a modified version of the gross receipts tax that was overwhelmingly voted down in the same election that put the Republicans in control. Are they that oblivious? We got this one rammed down our throats. Apparently only three Senators listened to the people. One of them, James Settelmeyer, is in our district. Thank him when you get a chance.

I would have expected the governor’s promise of education reform to be in one comprehensive bill that would outline what business people would get for their “investment”. Not so. There were 12 Senate bills and 11 Assembly bills concerning education that passed. I have tried to read them all but it is tedious and disjointed reading. There is no overall “education reform,” only piecemeal changes that probably will have little effect on outcome.

SB511, for example, provides for replacing the principal in and offering incentives for teachers who tutor or offer additional work in “turnaround” schools. However, Sec. 4.2(a)(2) says “Reassign the replaced principal to another public school within the school district.” (b)(1) of that same section says in part, “The board of trustees of the school district in which the school is located shall reassign any employee who is not retained pursuant to this subparagraph to another public school within the district;” Notice it says “shall”, not “may’ or should”. In other words, if an employee doesn’t perform, foist them off on a different group of students.

Another bill changes teacher performance ratings from relying 40 percent on student test scores to zero. I guess we revert back to the old method of evaluating teachers on everything but their product — educated students.

AB483 provides for “performance pay” for no more than five percent of the teachers employed. That is good as far as it goes. The way the bill reads, however, the pay increase is part of the salary and as such will be included in “average compensation” used by the NSEA to negotiate salary schedules. As such, it will affect the entire salary schedule even if that is not what was intended.

SB405 expands the Zoom School program which is geared toward ELL, or English Language Learners. ELL used to be part of, and I think still is, part of the special education programs. Maybe this will make clearer the cost of teaching mostly illegal immigrants, but don’t expect that cost to be readily disclosed.

There are some good things. SB491 provides for grants to start and operate charter schools, which should make it easier to expand school choice. SB302 establishes a program whereby a child receives a grant for 90 percent of the state funding allocation for public education that can be applied to a private or charter school. The state teachers’ union opposed these bills, so they must be good.

SB460 prescribes a voluntary alternative performance framework to evaluate public or charter schools. We don’t know what that framework is, and the bill does not provide any consequence for failure except more money. There’s an incentive for you.

In conclusion, the main positive I see is for more choice available from the private sector through charter and private schools. Otherwise, it is pretty much the same system that has failed regularly in the past. The prevailing theme seems to be that if you fail you get more money. Getting more money for failure is more incentive to fail.

Unless I missed something, much of the lofty “accountability” language that was touted was never added to any bill. When such language is found, it is essentially toothless. There is no consequence for sub-standard performance. Underperforming teachers and administrators are still protected from dismissal.

So what has changed? In my view, not much. Teachers will get raises, some deserved and some not. Otherwise, we will get more of the same, just with a higher price tag and no one to hold accountable until the next election. And I find that sad.

Tom Riggins is an LVN columnist and may be reached at


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