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Louisiana Governor Proposes $300-Million Reform Plan for Schools

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Gov. Edwin W. Edwards has asked the Louisiana legislature to approve a $300-million education-improvement package that would set beginning salaries for teachers at $17,000 and place them on a career track leading to as much as $30,000 after seven years.

The Governor's 60-point education plan also called for an immediate 10-percent salary hike for all teachers, higher teacher-certification and high-school graduation standards, and the introduction of several early-childhood education programs.

"The only way to sustain economic growth and move the state from an over-dependence on oil and gas revenues is to diversify existing industry and attract new enterprises to the state," Governor Edwards said. "This action demands a quality education system and that requires both commitment and money."

The reform plan began to take shape last November, when Mr. Edwards, then the Governor-elect, appointed teams of educators, members of the school board, and representatives of labor, business, and government to study potential improvements for the state's schools.

Prior to the opening of the legislative session, which began last week and is scheduled to run through early July, the Governor asked the legislature to make education "number one on the appropriations agenda to signal its importance and to ensure that necessary funding is provided."

Focus on Teachers

The Governor asked the legislature to pass enabling legislation for a career-ladder plan for teachers that would be phased in over three years, beginning in 1985-86. Under the proposal, new teachers hired at a minimum salary of $17,000 would receive annual increases that would allow them to earn $30,000 after seven years.

The career-ladder program would cost the state at least $75 million in additional funding in the first year alone, according to Mona Davis, the Governor's education advisor.

The adoption of the career-ladder program would place Louisiana in"the top 25 percent of states" in terms of teacher pay and "attract the best and brightest persons into the profession as well as keep those good people we already have," the Governor said.

He also proposed that the state provide across-the-board increases of 10 percent to all teachers. "People are going to see that I am serious about making Louisiana a place where learning is valued, where teachers are appreciated ... and where they are appropriately paid," Governor Edwards said.

The salary increases would cost about $112 million this year, according to Ms. Davis, who noted that in its March special session the legislature enacted a series of taxes to generate $720 million in new revenues. The additional taxes, however, will not be sufficient to pay for the education-improvement package because much of the money is needed to cover shortfalls and cuts in state services from previous years, Ms. Davis said.

Teacher Training

The Governor also proposed several changes to improve preservice and inservice training and teacher certification.

His plan calls on the legislature to: adopt a series of regulations to abolish "lifetime" teaching certificates; require that districts adopt staff-development plans at the system and building levels; and require that prospective teachers pass a standardized aptitude test prior to entering a teacher-training program, pass a standardized exit examination leading to certification, and successfully complete a paid one-year internship.

Mr. Edwards also urged lawmakers to support an alternate certification program to allow qualified college graduates to enter the teaching field in secondary education before completing the requirements for permanent certification. And he called for the establishment of a teacher-recruitment center to maintain current supply-and-demand data and develop recruitment programs.

Another proposal would revise the state's Professional Improvement Plan System (pips) for teachers. The pips program allows teachers to receive college credit on a tuition-exempt basis and earn additional salary increments for participation. Among other changes, the Governor seeks to establish 750 minutes of classroom study as a minimum amount of time a course can meet to provide the teacher with each credit-hour of training.

Early-Childhood Education

The Governor's education package suggests that the state sponsor 10 pilot programs at $30,000 each to "investigate how best to teach 4-year-olds with poor language skills and limited social skills," Ms. Davis said.

The reform package would also require that all students entering the public schools in the first grade complete half-day kindergarten programs and that class sizes in classrooms for grades K-3 do not exceed a student-teacher ratio of 22-1. The Governor proposed placing an aide in every K-3 classroom, a move that would create an additional 3,000 jobs in the state.

The rationale for the early-childhood initiatives, the Governor said, derives from the fact that the state is already "scheduled to spend more than $10 million providing remediation to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders."

"Further," he noted, "we are spending more than $11 million in remediation on the college level. It's a case of pay the bill now ... or pay it later."

Graduation Standards

The Governor does not support the graduation standards scheduled for final adoption by the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this week. (See Education Week, Feb. 8 and April 18, 1984.)

Saying he is concerned about the possible negative impact of the raised standards, Mr. Edwards urges instead that additional courses be implemented "over a period of time" and that "an appropriate alternative curriculum for students who are not college-bound should be developed by improving vocational-education options at the high-school level."

In the 60-point plan, the Governor also proposed that the state sponsor writing courses for a semester as part of the fourth year of English, with a maximum class size of 15. The course requirement for the study of "free enterprise" should be abolished, the plan suggests; instead, the course content should be merged with civics and economics to make a one-year course.

Mr. Edwards urged that the state require high-school students to attend school for four full academic years, taking a minimum of six classes in a seven-period day. Both the Governor and the state board are in favor of adding 30 minutes to the school day, Ms. Davis said.

The Governor also proposed that education officials make efforts to reduce the number of instructional days lost to implementing state or locally mandated tests and national achievement tests. Two days should be added to the school year for testing, paperwork, and local building-level training and planning, according to the reform plan.

School Finance

Mr. Edwards asked lawmakers to "look objectively at a new finance formula for K-12 education that would be more equitable and flexible" than the current system. He also requested that they fully fund the current formula and provide a supplemental appropriation to make up for the 1983-84 shortfall in education funds.

The Governor suggested that lawmakers mandate a "fiscal accountability" plan for districts and provide more training for school-finance managers.

He also urged an increase in the per-pupil allotment for state-approved textbooks and library materials to ensure that appropriate instructional materials are available.

Another proposal called on the state to include financial incentives to reward districts for improving their students' scores on the American College Testing program's exam or the College Board's advanced-placement tests.

Executive Order

The Governor's plan would aim to eliminate the problems caused by disruptive students by enforcing the state's existing discipline code. Mr. Edwards stated that he would create by executive order a task force on discipline to oversee the development of alternative-school plans for students who have problems coping with the school environment. That action, he said, would benefit students in regular classrooms as well as provide better morale among teachers.

The Governor also called for:

Setting funding for teacher-education programs at a higher level.

Establishing a Governor's scholarship program for outstanding high-school students to encourage them to remain in Louisiana colleges and universities in any field.

Introducing a forgivable-loan program for prospective teachers who agree to work in the state's schools after they are certified.

Making the position of state superintendent of education appointed rather than elected.

Establishing a blue-ribbon panel to study special-education regulations in order to determine the best method of providing services to handicapped special-education students.

Funding an academy for school administrators.

Providing financial support for a center for educational research and policy studies.

Eliminating compensatory-education programs during the school year and making summer school mandatory if a student fails at the grade levels selected for testing.

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