What REALLY happened at the BESE Special Meeting?

By now, most of you have awaken to the news that Gov. John Bel Edwards’ effort to derail Louisiana’s education progress was blocked by BESE. As is usually the case, the media has shown its loyalty to the education reform movement and either failed to notice that Wednesday’s special meeting continued after the highly publicized vote, or they chose not to report on it. Either way, they have failed to deliver the true outcome of the meeting and what lies beneath the picture perfect ending painted by BESE. It is clear that only a small privileged number of BESE members were privy to what was about to happen, and a number of them were completely caught off guard.

Holly Boffy, BESE District 7

Before getting into the details about the outcome, I want to summarize the day’s events and credit the efforts of some. The attendance of the special meeting was unprecedented. There was not an empty seat in the house. More than 200 green cards were filled out to either support or oppose BESE’s motion to support submitting Supt. White’s ESSA plan early, instead of delaying to a September submission. I don’t know how many actually spoke to the board, but the meeting spanned over 7 hours as people came to the table, five at a time, to speak their mind. Often times, people in support, and people opposing, sat at the table together. Out of all of the testimony given, the most significant of the day was given by the president of the Louisiana Superintendent’s Association, Hollis Milton. Milton laid out a number of concerns held by the organization and shared by school board members, principals and teachers. At the conclusion of his testimony, he asked the 61 out of 69 parish superintendents in attendance to stand. They did, and the room erupted in thunderous applause. It was a superb display of unity and a resounding vote of confidence for all in attendance to oppose the early submission.

Of course, in the end, BESE cast their vote on the recommendation to Supt. White to submit the ESSA plan, no sooner than April 14th. The motion passed with a 7 to 4 vote, and that is as far as the news media reported. If any outlet did report the events after this moment, please let me know, and I will update. For now, let’s talk about the rest of the meeting and the significance of the submission date stated in the motion.

Almost immediately upon completion of the role call on the recommendation, BESE Vice President Holly Boffy, alerted President Gary Jones that she wanted to make a motion. Without warning, she presented a typed motion (prepared in advance) which can be seen below.

In an effort to keep this blog brief, I will write a separate blog to address these individual items, but for now, I want to point out a few things.

  1. Motions regarding an agenda item are made during the discussion of the item AND before the vote is taken. The vote on this item had already been taken.
  2. When President Jones was alerted that a unanimous vote was required to add an agenda item, he stated that he would allow it because it is germane to the previous item.
  3. It was presented as a motion, after the vote; not an agenda item.
  4. It is unclear if this series of events will pass muster under open-meeting laws.

If you’ve read through the contents of the motion, you will notice that on the surface it appears as though BESE is responding to the outcry . Many of the bullets are direct responses to concerns, but I also want to point out that some of them are in response to demands by reform organizations that were in support of the plan from the beginning. The motion requires Supt. White to incorporate these items into the plan, then meet with the concerned stakeholders before submitting the plan after April 14th. That’s great, right? Sorta. There is more to it that BESE didn’t want publicized, and instead, portrayed as a response to outcry.

In my Governor’s Council Wrap-up, I talked about how Stephen Parker, lobbyist for the National Governor’s Association (NGA), explained their involvement in the creation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), along with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The governor is a highly respected member of the NGA, and BESE member, Holly Boffy, is employed by CCSSO. We know that on Tuesday, the 28th, Supt. White, a couple of BESE members, and a number of superintendents, met at the governor’s office. I have confirmed that communications with these two organizations were not discussed at this meeting. I also know that the governor’s office has been engaged in dialog with both agencies, and without a doubt, Boffy is now aware of these communications. Let’s look at this series of events a little closer.

Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos

At the final meeting of the Governor’s ESSA Advisory Council on February 23rd, it was noted that Supt. White had submitted the final ESSA plan to Gov. Edwards for review on February 20th. Following the guidelines that had been previously set by regulations established under the previous presidential administration, this allowed the governor thirty days to review the plan and respond with a few days remaining for the superintendent to respond to the governor, before submitting the plan on the April 3rd deadline. It was stated in the previous regulations that while the superintendent has to submit the plan to the governor for review, he can still submit the plan without the governor’s approval. It has been assumed that this is what would happen. Those regulations have now been repealed by Congress, and new, much more concise, regulations have been issued. The following things have been made crystal clear by the NGA and the U. S. Department of Education.

On March 13th, Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, issued a new much less complicated template for states to use when submitted their ESSA plans. Simultaneously, she issued a statement which said that states planning to submit on April 3rd must use the new smaller template, and states that have already submitted should review their plans to ensure that the plan meets the requirement of the new template. On this same day, DeVos issued a State Plan Fact Sheet which states the following, on page three:

For an SEA’s consolidated State plan to be considered during the spring peer review window, the Department expects that on April 3, 2017 an SEA will either submit a completed consolidated State plan with the Governor’s signature or an indication that the Governor has waived his or her review.

Did you notice the bold text at the end of that quote? That’s right. What was previously misrepresented by the former Secretary of Education, John King, has been corrected by the new Secretary to reflect the true intent of ESSA’s inclusion of the governor in the process. Here is a summary of what occurred.

  1. There are only two submission dates followed by peer review. April 4th and September 18th.
  2. If a state misses the April deadline, they cannot not submit their plan until the September deadline. This was misrepresented several times when BESE stated the plan could be submitted anytime before September, and ultimately directed Supt. White not to submit before April 14th. Because of this motion, he is unable to submit until September.
  3. Governor Edwards had no intention of signing off on approval of the ESSA plan, and Supt. White gave every indication that he intended to submit the plan without the governor’s approval.
  4. If White had submitted the plan without the governor’s signature, and unaccompanied by an indication that the governor waives the right to review, it would have been rejected.
  5. In an effort to save face, BESE created the appearance of responding to outcry by requiring White to incorporate the concerns listed in the motion made by Boffy; knowing full well that the governor would not sign it without doing so.
  6. Because of the timeline created by the motion, Louisiana’s ESSA plan cannot be submitted until September and will be approved in the Fall Peer Review process; therefore, we must remain engaged in order to prevent the implementation of this plan before it has even been approved.

In the end, this is a win for the stakeholders of Louisiana; however, there are still some concerns about the contents of the motion; most notable, the addition of demands from education reform groups. Also, there is a glaring absence of “meaningful engagement” with parents. Know this, though. There are mechanisms in place for all stakeholders to halt the process to guarantee input, and it is now clear to Supt. John White that the governor, and the people of Louisiana, intend to use them.

3 thoughts on “What REALLY happened at the BESE Special Meeting?”

  1. Thanks for the additional clarity. As to the infraction of open meetings law, I feel it is of utmost importance that a lawsuit be filed for the purpose of halting past similar practices by BESE/LDOE and to ensure that the democratic process and laws of this state designed to preserve it are upheld and will not be allowed to occur again.

    When the public feels their voice is not heard or that the governmental agency is corrupt, it discourages them from participating and holding government officials accountable. That is a serious undermining of democracy. While all members of BESE had an opportunity to halt the travesty that occurred yesterday, those who knowingly instigated it should be subject to all legal punishments and recognized as participating in unethical behavior. All public officials are required to participate in ethics educational presentations and must sign off. This prevents the “I didn’t know” excuse.

    I might also say that it would seem to have been the LDOE legal staff and the BESE Executive Director, Shan Davis’ responsibility to alert BESE to this infraction. Not only were they not publicly asked to respond to our objections to this process, but they seemed to have no presence. The Executive Director actually supported this action in my conversation w her prior to public comment.

  2. I also want to point out that when Debra Schum was trying to get clarification on this confusing action, she was shut down by President Jones, but a few minutes later, Debbie Meaux did the same, and was allowed. BESE was clearly in unfamiliar waters.

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