BESE’s Carolyn Hill on quest to mend school reform efforts

When Carolyn Hill ran to become a member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, she championed school reform.
Last year, while campaigning to replace Linda Johnson, Hill told Swagher Magazine she had the combination needed to make a difference.

“We need strong voices on BESE to champion the needs of the children, provide better educational opportunities to the community and promote core values of our district,” Hill said.

Hill now disagrees with the education reform she supported in her campaign. Almost a year into her position as BESE’s District 8 representative, Hill tried to “champion the needs of children” by writing a letter announcing her disappointment in the state’s current education reform efforts.

“I believe in education reform, but I believe that the education reform policies being put forth [for Louisiana] are examples of irresponsible reform.” Hill said.

BESE is comprised of 11 members, three named by the governor and eight selected by vote. BESE sets policies for an estimated for 668,000 schools in Louisiana.

Hill said the voucher program is misleading parents into believing they have privileges they do not have and it lacks transparency. “The voucher program doesn’t allow a student who is attending a failing school to be automatically taken out and placed in a charter school or private school” she said.

Hill said parents were first misled when they were told they would be given choices. Parents who may want to transfer their student to a different school, under the voucher program, would be denied that right. Unlike public schools – where parents can transfer their children at any time – parents, who wanted to transfer their children, were told they would have to go through the Department of Education.

“If a student is in a scholarship program that isn’t meeting their needs they should be able to transfer to another program if seating is available,” she said. “Right now they don’t have that right.”
When Hill gets complaints as a BESE member, her first step is take these problems to the Department of Education. But, she said parents who are not happy are forced to return to the public school system.

“Parents are being misled into thinking once in the voucher program they can take their child to any school and they will be accepted,” she said. “This is not happening and this is not true reform.”

Hill said some charter schools are selective entry, because they were grandfathered into the reform and did not have to make any changes to how they operate before reform was passed, and this forces some students back in the public school system. Since the voucher program is statewide, she feels every student who applies should be assisted.

“When I look at reform, I look at it as an equitable playing field,” Hill said. “My view is that everyone has the opportunity to, at the same level, receive the same quality of education.”

Hill said a new reform is needed because the current one is making things worse. She said that even on a national level no one knows how to approach the issue and Louisiana is no different. “The legislators who voted on the issue of reform didn’t have enough time to view it due to a lack of preparation and understanding,” she said.
Hill said that some of the schools also have been misled during the reform process. Every year the schools take the LEAP test. Schools were told their scores would determine how many students were eligible for the vouch program. The schools with the highest scores would be allowed to have more students in the program than those with lowest scores. The students were already divided up among the schools before the schools knew how well they did on the LEAP test.

“Policies and laws have been implemented without providing the schools with accurate information is and that is a disgrace,” Hill said.

Hill said educational reform in Louisiana needs to address the key issues such as poverty, health issues and community and parental involvement.

Hill, who oversees 14 parishes, said West Felicia Parish has a model that she hopes can be expanded throughout the state. The have integrated early childhood education within the school. The school allows children as young as three months to begin school. The school also makes services available to parents such as social workers and health centers.

“Providing parents with services helps encourage parental involvement and also allows the system to track the students’ progress on health and academic from the age of three months, Hill said.

Hill said that if Louisiana better allocates its funds, provides parents with services to aid with basic needs, and focuses on the specific needs of certain areas, the drop- out rate will decrease, children will take ownership of their education and teachers will be better motivated.

By Cameron James
The Drum reporter

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