Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has always been a man in a hurry. By the age of 20, he was an honors graduate of Brown University with double majors in public policy and biology. By 23, he had completed a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford (having politely declined admission to Yale Law and Harvard Medical School) and taken a position with the prestigious consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
At 25, he was the youngest-ever secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals; at 27, he was the executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare; at 28, president of the University of Louisiana system. By 30, Jindal was an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services in Washington. Within four years, he’d be sworn in as a U.S. congressman from Louisiana’s First District. Within another three, he’d be governor of the Pelican State.
Thus, even at the ripe old age of 40, when Bobby Jindal tells you he’s going to do something, it becomes a matter of mathematical certainty. So when Jindal pronounced in his second inaugural address, delivered in January of this year, that “as long as there are children who are not receiving a quality education here in Louisiana — our mission is not accomplished,” it should have served as a heads up to the state’s educational establishment that reform was about to bear down on them with gale force.
Despite that warning shot, the defenders of the status quo — led by two unions, the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers — were caught flat-footed. And now, Jindal, less than three months after his Inauguration Day promise of root and branch reform to the state’s dysfunctional education system (44 percent of Louisiana schools receive grades of “D” or “F” in the state’s accountability ratings; test performance is in the bottom five nationally), is about to sign some of the most sweeping education reform legislation the nation has ever seen.
The laws passed by the Louisiana legislature last week read like a conservative education reformer’s wish list. Teacher tenure, which previously required three years of employment, will now be contingent on educators receiving a “highly effective” rating in five out of six consecutive years. Back-to-back “ineffective” ratings will be a firing offense. Seniority will no longer be a dominant factor in layoff decisions. Decisions about teacher employment and pay will largely devolve to principals and superintendents (they had previously been dominated by local school boards), allowing them to act with the dispatch becoming of an executive.
The reforms go well beyond personnel matters, however. They open up opportunities for charter schools, allowing new providers to enter the market. They offer vouchers that will allow poor and middle-income children in Louisiana’s worst schools to attend private or parochial institutions. They even expand opportunities for online learning.
Had Jindal tried something nearly as audacious in a union-dominated state like California, Illinois or New York, the proposal surely would have been stillborn in committee. But in right-to-work Louisiana, where the unions aren’t subsidized by compulsory membership, the best that organized labor can do is flail in anger after the fact. And flail they have.