Lessons From Louisiana: Go Big or Go Home

On April 4th, after months of hard work, FreedomWorks activists celebrated as the Louisiana State Senate finally passed HB976 and HB974, two bills that mark a historic overhaul of the state’s education system.

The HB976 legislation creates a market-based school choice system, creating vouchers for children to escape failing schools and allowing an easier pathway to creation of charter schools with a “parent trigger” program.  The HB974 legislation completely overhauls the teacher tenure system in Louisiana, rewarding only effective educators and provides financial incentives for those performing above expectation.  HB974 also eliminates “automatic” teacher tenure for new teachers entering the school service.     

These reforms eliminate two untouchable sacred cows of union power—voucher control and tenure.  

What the victory in Louisiana shows is that real education reform is supported by an overwhelming number of people who are no longer willing to accept the status quo.  Louisiana has set historic precedent this week, demonstrating to the rest of the nation that it is possible to get complete overhaul of a system, something deemed impossible up until now.  

School choice advocates have been advancing small reforms incrementally over time, taking small bites at the apple, rather than one big chunk.  With the passage of HB974 and HB976 and the likely passage of the four other pieces of proposed legislation, Governor Jindal has made history doing what many considered impossible.

Looking ahead to other states and other school choice battles, reform advocates should be inspired to reach for larger, more aggressive reforms. Once considered unbeatable, education union bosses are slowly being broken down.  Each time a new school choice bill becomes law, the union’s stranglehold on the system is loosed just a little.  Other governors should take notice, especially those with bills being fought by legislators who are lost in the fog of special interests.  

Governors like Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania.   These governors sit idly by as their legislators work on reform bills. In South Carolina, HB4894 recently passed the House for the first time in the state’s history, and a long fight is expected in the Senate.

Reflecting on the victory in Louisiana, these two governors should follow Governor Jindal’s display of committed leadership and be bold.  Governors: Push your legislators to act, do not allow failure.  If you fail to lead, your constituents will take notice and replace you with someone else who will.

As for us, we must not rest on this one victory. We must continue pushing forward, keeping the momentum from Louisiana and building off of it. There are many lessons to be learned from our grassroots efforts this time around, what worked, what didn’t. This movement is spreading, and cannot be stopped.  The match has been struck, the spark is now a fire, and it’s us who must not let it go out…