The Almighty LABI

Stephen Waguespack, LABI President

In the last five years of his reign of terror over Louisiana, Bobby Jindal masterfully executed the demonizing of professional educators and the destruction of public school education as we know it. Driven by greed, he convinced legislators to facilitate the privatization of public education through the proliferation of predatory charter schools and by creating an invalid method of evaluating teachers in an effort to give the appearance of a failing system to justify privatization. Sounds like a powerful governor, right? Not really. He had help.

Today, the Louisiana legislature is closing on its second special session of the year. Why were these two special sessions needed? Well, former governor, Jindal, left office with Louisiana in an unprecedented deficit. I fear that when this session closes at midnight, the budget will not be settled.

Why is it that we are unable to balance the budget and move on? In short, Louisiana is faced with both a spending problem and a revenue problem. On the spending side, it seems as though the legislature has a priority problem. I believe there is still room to make cuts and still fund K-12 education, higher ed and healthcare; however, these areas continue to be cut in favor of TOPS and other pet projects.

On the revenue side, Louisiana depends on a tax structure that generates revenue on the backs of the middle class and poor, while giving away enough tax revenue to corporations to close the budget gap three times. How does the state do this? It is done via tax rebates and incentives. Why not just do away with them? Well, it isn’t that easy. What I am about to tell you may shock you, but the great state of Louisiana isn’t controlled by the governor, or the legislature. It is controlled by the almighty Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, also known as LABI. For those who don’t know, LABI was formerly known as the Louisiana Chamber of Commerce. Yes, the same Chamber of Commerce in your hometown. Only, most of them have changed their names to some sort of “Alliance.”

How does LABI do this? Well, under the guidance of the former governor’s Chief of Staff, Stephen Waguespack, the organization uses its endless supply of finances to influence lawmakers, and through its efforts, controls the direction and outcome of nearly every detail of state government. How do I know this? I’ve seen it first hand.

I started this blog talking about the legislature and the budget because I wanted to explain LABI’s role in state government. Why? Because this very same organization has been the driving force in the destruction of public education.

I spent a great deal of time at the capitol during part of the first special session and most of the regular session. I observed, first hand, how LABI uses its influence to get what it wants. For example, nearly every education legislation proposed by Governor Edwards was killed in committee. The one piece of legislation that got through was a revision to teacher evaluations. In retrospect, it is clear that it was a blatant attempt to patronize the governor. When you come to the table demanding votes for a contract, or pitch a fit over negotiations and shut them down because you can, you clearly don’t have the interests of children in mind. With the disappearance of an ethics bill that would’ve sent John White packing, I suspect that LABI got what they wanted.

(SB477) Gov. John Bel Edwards signs teacher evaluation bill into law.
(SB477) Gov. John Bel Edwards signs teacher evaluation bill into law.

So, what is the point of this blog? The point is that we…meaning all of us…have to organize our actions and efforts if we are going to save our children. Let’s talk about who was at the table during that teacher evaluation. Basically, your run in the mill stakeholders.

  • LABI
  • CABL
  • Stand for Children (SFC)
  • Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE)
  • Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT)
  • Louisiana School Board Association (LSBA)
  • Governor’s Office

Did you notice something here? There is no representation of parents and children. Now, SFC will argue that they serve that role. I’m here to tell you, SFC does not represent me, or my children. Who do you think controlled the outcome of these negotiations? LABI, of course. By the way, they reneged on the negotiated agreement, and no one can do anything about it. The revised evaluations were supposed to be accompanied by a task force to study and make meaningful changes to the evaluation system, but someone’s personal agenda got in the way, and it ticked off LABI, so they killed the task force.

We, as parents, have got to unite and raise our voices. The new ESSA law guarantees us a seat at the table for these negotiations. Whether it be through an organized membership, or some other effort, we have got to get involved, or before you know it, all will be lost.


One thought on “The Almighty LABI”

  1. Our teacher evaluation task force is the Accountability Commission at this point. The next meeting is Monday at 1:00 at Claiborne Bldg. Anyone interested in having their voice heard needs to be there to testify. This committee is giving JW a run for his money but those committee members need your support. Local control won’t happen unless we participate in the development of our new accountability system under ESSA.

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