Education bills sure to spark controversy on reading, financial literacy and pronouns –

Teacher pay raises, requiring third graders with reading problems to repeat the grade and mandating that high school students pass a course in financial literacy are among the key education topics for the 2023 regular legislative session.
Teacher pay raises, requiring third graders with reading problems to repeat the grade and mandating that high school students pass a course in financial literacy are among the key education topics for the 2023 regular legislative session.
While teacher pay hikes top the education agenda for the 2023 regular legislative session, debates are also expected over a push to force third graders with reading problems to repeat the grade and over what pronouns teachers can use with students.
Bills requiring high school students to pass a course in financial literacy, to let public school students use their state aid to attend private or other schools and to ban spanking in schools will also spark controversy.
The two-month session begins on April 10, and Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed pay increases of $2,000 for teachers and possibly $3,000 if the state generates more revenue, as is expected.
State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have proposed salary boosts of $2,000 per year, and another $1,000 for teachers who meet certain criteria, including working in hard-to-fill jobs.
The key points in dispute are how much the raise should be and whether select teachers should get more.
Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, said he is optimistic that his reading proposal will win final approval this year, after it breezed through the House last year before narrowly failing in the Senate.
Under his proposal – House Bill 12 – third graders who repeatedly fail to meet minimum benchmarks for reading would have to repeat the grade, and undergo intensive remediation.
Up to 4,500 of Louisiana’s roughly 50,000 third graders could be affected, according to 2022 data.
The backdrop for the bill is the state’s woeful literacy rate: less than half of Louisiana’s youngest learners are reading on grade level, including 39% of kindergarten students.
Nelson, who is runnning for governor, noted that Mississippi and Florida showed huge gains on reading scores after enacting similar measures, benefitting white and minority students alike.
“It works across the board,” he said.
Experts say students who are not reading on grade level by the end of the third grade face huge challenges, and have a good chance of dropping out in high school.
Critics have questioned whether forcing a student to repeat the grade makes sense.
Another proposal – House Bill 81 – could reignite some of the culture wars that often flare up during education debates.
Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, wants to require that teachers only call students by the name on their birth certificate unless parents provide written permission to do otherwise. Teachers would also be required to address students with pronouns that align with those students’ genders. 
The plan comes amid sporadic controversy nationally over students who identify in a way that differs with their birth certificate.
Critics are sure to question just how widespread the issue is in Louisiana public schools, as they have on similar bills.
Crews did not return calls for comment.
In another area, Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond, wants to require that high school students pass a course in financial literacy amid surveys that show lots of young adults are clueless about credit cards, interest rates and debt.
“A lot of our students, their families are working hard but they do not have time to teach the basic fundamentals of financial literacy,” Muscarello said.
The proposal – House Bill 103 – would require students to pass the class to earn a high school diploma and qualify for the college scholarship program known as TOPS.
Brumley said the bill would address a pressing issue.
“Whenever I am out throughout the state visiting with community groups and parents, this is one of the most common suggestions that I receive, that students exiting high school have background knowledge in personal finance and financial responsibility,” Brumley said.
House Education Committee Chair Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, wants to let public school students transfer to private or other schools – and take the roughly $5,400 in annual state aid with them. His bill is House Bill 98.
Two less sweeping bills won approval last year but were vetoed by Edwards because he said private schools should not be financed with public dollars.
Backers say letting the state set up education savings accounts will give families more freedom to pursue the best education options for their children.
Opponents, including teacher unions, say the change would pose problems for low-income families, since $5,400 is less than the annual tuition charged by many private schools.
Meanwhile, Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, is again proposing legislation, House Bill 242, that would ban spanking, paddling and other forms of corporal punishment in public schools unless parents provide written permission to allow it.
Last year, a similar measure fell one vote short of the minimum needed to send it to the Senate.
At least 19 of Louisiana’s 69 school districts allow corporal punishment, according to a 2022 survey by the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
Rep. Joseph Marino III of Gretna, who isn’t affiliated with a political party, wants all kindergarten students tested for dyslexia, a disability that hinders reading and recognizing words.
Marino said 1 in 5 students nationally have dyslexia but schools here routinely report that less than 1% of students have the condition.
“There is no way that we have a dramatically different number of students with dyslexia than the national average,” he said about the bill, House Bill 69. “We are failing a large number of our students in schools.”
At least three bills are expected that would restrict access to public library books amid complaints by Attorney General Jeff Landry that sexually explicit materials are freely available in libraries.
Opponents dispute Landry’s claim and have called his effort a political stunt in his run for governor.
Also, Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haugton, filed a bill to ban teachers from discusing sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms – House Bill 466.
A similar measure failed in the House Education Committee last year.
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