Capitol Views: Administration, LFT oppose total school choice; first pension

Capitol Views: Administration, LFT oppose total school choice; first pension

A bill heard today made history but did not make it out of the Senate Education Committee.

A senator suggested a picture be taken when state education official Erin Bendily and Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan sat together at the witness table to oppose Senate Bill 182 by Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa.

The bill would extend the state scholarship program to fund any student in any public school—as well as homeschoolers—to attend a private school.

"If we are going down this road, let's be fair to all children," said Nevers, who voted against the school choice bill last week.

The kicker is that any participating nonpublic school would administer state accountability tests to all its students and that it would comply with state certification standards for teachers, which is not part of the newly passed scholarship program.

That created a split between the Louisiana Association of Educators, which backed Nevers' bill, and the LFT. The bill was involuntarily deferred.

—Having passed the major education bills, the Jindal administration turns its attention to pension reform. It supports two bills being heard in the House Retirement Committee today.

House Bill 60 by Retirement Chairman Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, would merge the School Employees Retirement System and the Teachers Retirement System. Pearson cited cost savings and elimination of duplication from the change. But officials from each system argued that the merger would neither save money nor serve their different memberships. It was still being debated at press time.

Waiting on the agenda is HB 61, which would shift state employees from a defined benefit system to a so-called cash balance plan. It is a hybrid of a defined contribution plan, like a 401(k), that would put one percentage point of investment earnings into an account to prevent any losses.

The two more controversial retirement bills, to increase employee payroll contributions and to raise the retirement age for full benefits, will be heard in Senate Retirement Committee on Monday.

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