House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., last Friday visited a private Catholic school, St. Mary's Academy in New Orleans, for a tour and a discussion with local education officials and families. The purpose of the visit, (gumbo and sazerac aside) was to promote Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's education agenda, much of which has landed in court. "We want to explore what has been gained in terms of experience to see how we can learn from this at the federal level," Cantor said after the event.
Jindal, a rising star in the Republican party, last year announced an ambitious education plan for Louisiana that has been cheered by school choice advocates and booed by teachers' unions. The plan forms a virtual battleground for a difficult education debate in a state whose schools are ranked among the very worst in the country. Louisiana is the perfect place for radical school proposals, and Jindal doesn't shy away from the task. His plan includes private school vouchers, severely weakened teacher tenure, and fast-tracking for charter schools.
Last week, a Louisiana court threw out Jindal's teacher tenure evaluation measure, saying it violated the state constitution because it contained too many unrelated provisions. Late last year, the same court said the voucher program was unconstitutional because it diverted local tax dollars to private schools.
Jindal is unbowed by the setbacks. "When we embarked on this path of reform, we knew this would not be an easy fight because the coalition of the status quo is entrenched and has worked to hold Louisiana teachers and students back for decades," he said in response to the most recent court ruling.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten cheered the ruling, saying elected officials can't force radical changes on the education system without consultation and deliberation. The court decision "should be a wake-up call to so-called reformers determined to ram through top-down dictates that undermine the voice of educators and public schools at all costs," she said.
What does Jindal's plan--and Cantor's interest in it--signify about Republicans' views on education? What is the impact on the public school system from school choice initiatives like Jindal's? What is the impact of eliminating the benefits of teacher tenure? Is it a direct attack on the teachers unions? Where can Democrats find common ground with Republicans in this conversation?