Push to Abolish Three BESE Appointees Removes House Sign, ‘Remnant of an Imperial Governorship’ | Legislature


Voters would decide whether or not to abolish the three named positions on Louisiana’s top school board under a bill that passed the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

The proposal, House Bill 4, was approved 7-3 and then faces action across the House.

It is a constitutional amendment and needs the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate, always a significant obstacle.

Rep. Phillip Tarver, R-Lake Charles, sponsor of the legislation, said it makes no sense to have a council where eight members are elected by voters and three are appointed by the governor.

“Let’s take one or the other,” Tarver told the committee.

“There are a lot of special interests that are involved in the nominations,” Tarver added.

“Our (local) school board is popularly elected and accountable to the people there,” he said. “I think the public school board should be the same way.”

The measure would dramatically change the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which sets policies for about 700,000 public school students.

One of the three appointed positions is usually reserved for a representative of Catholic schools, which make up about 20% of the state’s school population.

Tom Constanza, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, said his group opposes the measure.

“We just don’t think there’s a reason to change it,” Constanza said.

But Rep. Chuck Owen, R-Rosepine, a member of the committee, said allowing the governor three appointments on an 11-member board was part of the state’s longstanding tradition of giving the chief executive extraordinary powers.

“I think it’s a holdover from an imperial governorship that we’re still used to in Louisiana,” Owen said.

“I am of the opinion that the people should decide whether we should continue on this path,” he said.

Appointees are subject to Senate confirmation, which is usually routine.

They serve a four-year term, like elected members.

Tarver said a shakeup is also needed because the state has long lagged most other states in academic achievement.

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“The fact is that the progress is questionable,” he said.

“Citizens would agree; they would tell you that 49th or 50th over and over again is unacceptable,” said Tarver, a reference to education rankings.

Belinda Davis of Baton Rouge, one of three governors appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards on BESE, opposed the measure.

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday named Belinda Davis, a seasoned public school attorney, to the state board of elementary and secondary education.

Davis said 24 councils nationwide are made up entirely of governor-appointed members and 16 are a mix of elected and appointed members.

She said adopting Tarver’s plan “would set our board outside the norm in governance.”

Davis said one of the others named, Thomas Roque, is superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Alexandria and the third, Doris Voitier, superintendent of schools for St. Bernard Parish, is over half a century old. of experience in education.

Pandemic-related issues surrounding the annual standardized tests, which some students are now taking, have sparked new controversy over the state Bo…

“It’s hard for me to imagine anyone saying we’re not better at their service,” she said.

Davis is a professor of public policy at LSU.

Tarver said appointees who want to serve on BESE should stand for election.

“This is what I have to do, this is what you have to do,” he told his colleagues.

The question, if approved by the Legislative Assembly, would be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The committee also approved a companion bill — House Bill 84 — that would spell out the details of the new rules if lawmakers and voters approve the amendment.

Voting “yes” on the bill was Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria; Beryl Amédée, R-Houma; Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge; Chuck Owen, R-Rosepine; Laurie Schlegel, R-Metairie; Vinny St. Blanc III, R-Franklin and Phillip Tarver, R-Lake Charles.

Representatives Ken Brass, D-Vacherie voted “no”; Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer and Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport.

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