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Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Ready or Not, Here it Comes: Education

The first LA special legislative session wrapped up yesterday. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy, but then, they never are, and many possibilities were argued into oblivion.

However, one of the most important bills made it through: the partial take-over of Orleans Parish schools. Few items on the legislative agenda had longer-term ramifications than the education of New Orleans' children. Yet right down to the wire, there was resistance.

The measure was opposed by many members of the Orleans delegation, including some who have previously supported efforts to reshape the system. They complained about making such a drastic change when the people it will affect could not be included in the discussions because they are scattered around the country.

Yes, people scattered around the country have not been able to participate. How, exactly, would one go about engaging them? How many people have to agree that something is broken in order to fix it?

Labor unions also criticized the legislation because it would effectively dismantle the collective bargaining agreement for New Orleans teachers. Under the new plan, state officials may pick and choose which teachers to hire back as schools reopen, instead of seniority dictating the process.

This objection is harder, because in my experience, teachers labor for love. I have little doubt they feel personally rejected, yet the entire system for which they labored was riddled beyond repair with corruption. Furthermore, even if seniority did dictate hiring, most teachers won’t be back for years anyway. Some schools may never re-open, and that won’t be the result of the legislature. The real culprit there is Katrina.

I’m bothered most, though, by the resistance to new educative approaches by the black community, as evinced by the Legislative Black Caucus. Referring to Governor Blanco, the president of the Council for a Better Louisiana said:

"I would argue that she may have lost some points with some African-American legislators over the New Orleans schools situation," he said. "But the truth is, she's done more for that constituency in getting that bill passed than almost anything I can think of."

The system, as it existed, was hurting the children of the black community more than any other constituent group, making the Caucus' position somewhat confounding. Yes, charter schools are a new idea, but in spite of how different they seem, they're still public schools. There is nothing “white” about fixing a broken school system.

Either way, the proof will be in the pudding (so to speak). Orleans Parish schools have a whole new lease on life, and although the education overhaul required intervention by Mother Nature, it is finally happening.

Everybody needs to stop quibbling now. Time to pull together and make it work.