Tag Archives: public schools

Pocan: For Every Student Succeeds Act

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a member of the Education and the Workforce Committee, spoke Dec. 2 on the House floor in support of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The bipartisan bill passed the House this week by a vote of 359-64 and the Senate is expected to finalize it next week.

This is the first reauthorization of the ESEA since the expiration of No Child Left Behind in 2007.

The following is Pocan’s statement on the floor:

I rise in support of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Defending public education is one of the reasons I came to Congress.

For years, we’ve witnessed a negative impact on public education from underfunding our schools and to stripping teachers of their rights to collectively bargain for fair pay and conditions. At the same time, punitive policies which limit teachers’ and administrators’ abilities to manage their classrooms have further hampered student achievement. 

In my home state, attacks on public education are made on a regular basis. And nationally our dialogue surrounding K-12 education has lacked the input of local educators, parents and communities. It’s past time we renew the promise of an ESEA which has students’ best interests at heart.

I meet with teachers and administrators from Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District regularly and was stunned when I was told one third of a school’s staff turned over last year because schools lack the financial support and autonomy they need to give students the educational experience they deserve. Teachers are being asked to do more with less and it’s coming at the expense of our kids’ education.

A 2014 Alliance for Excellent Education student demonstrated that 13% of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers move schools or leave the profession every year. Close to 40-50% of teachers leave the job entirely within 5 years of starting.

And while this bill is far from perfect, I am pleased that we are finally discussing a bill today that aims to put students first and trusts the teachers who dedicate their careers to education.

This bill trusts and empowers teachers to ensure their voices are heard on the federal, state, and local level while increasing teacher quality and professional development, and reducing the burden of testing in schools.

Those are good improvements, Mr. Speaker, good for our nation’s children, and that’s why I support this bill.

ALEC dictates Wisconsin’s public school policy

On the heels of a passed state budget that leaves our K-12 public schools without ample and consistent funding, I recently headed back to where the school privatization push began — the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC.

ALEC and its members have become more powerful than citizens’ voices at the state Capitol. Despite urgent pleas from Wisconsin school superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and students for consistent and adequate K-12 public education funding, Republican legislators chose to dump more money into an unaccountable private voucher school system.

Since Republicans took over state government in 2011, they have cut $1.2 billion from public K–12 education. Under the latest budget, 55 percent of school districts will get less general student aid than they did during the last budget cycle. The state will spend $1,014 less per student than it did in 2008.

Yet for private schools, the scenario is very different. The state eliminated caps on the number of voucher schools that can operate in the state, which will divert an additional $600–$800 million from public schools over the next decade. The state also authorized private schools for special-needs students without requiring specialized instruction, teacher training or up-to-date legal protections.

At ALEC’s recent conference, state legislators were urged to push farther for universal vouchers. ALEC called for eliminating income or eligibility limits, as well as for funding parity for unaccountable, independent charter schools.

The most far-reaching model bill that the ALEC Education Taskforce proposed calls for creating education savings accounts. One such bill was recently adopted in Nevada.

Under the bill, public money is deposited into individual student accounts that parents can spend on any educational system they choose. According to the lead sponsor of Nevada’s ESA law, it will impact 94 percent of public school students and open the floodgates to private schools.

The new generation of ALEC’s school privatization policies reduces state oversight and accountability measures, contains no income cap and provides the same level of state and local funding per pupil that public schools receive.

ALEC is targeting suburban, middle-income families to sell its education agenda by attacking public education for allegedly failing not just low-income students, but middle-income as well. State legislators have been drafted as the foot soldiers to promulgate this message.  

ALEC and many Republican legislators in Wisconsin have no vision for public education, because they do not want it to exist. But there is a way to stop ALEC’s destructive policies. With 78 percent of Wisconsinites opposed to public education cuts, it starts with you.

ALEC had a piece of advice we should listen to — “Elections matter.” 

Chris Taylor represents the 76th Assembly District, which encompasses Madison. She’s the former policy and political director of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and led the organization to landmark victories for women’s health.


Republicans defy Walker’s school-funding cut but support increase in voucher schools

The Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee approved a wide-reaching education agenda that would increase funding for public schools, undo enrollment caps on the private school voucher program, create a special needs voucher and target certain low-performing schools for takeover.

The 12-4 vote on education issues in the two-year budget, with all Republicans in support and Democrats against, came at the end of five hours of debate. Republicans broke with Gov. Scott Walker on several key issues, including by reversing a $127 million cut to public schools in the first year.

The Joint Finance Committee was expected to wrap up its votes on the entire budget next week, before sending the entire plan to the full Senate and Assembly for consideration. Walker, a likely presidential candidate, has said he won’t announce a White House bid until after he signs the budget, likely in late June.

Democrats railed against the education plan, and prolonged the debate for hours by introducing a series of motions to alter the plan, all of which were rejected.

“It’s not going to be Armageddon for public schools tomorrow, but we’re on that road,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, speaking against the plan.

At times the rhetoric was heated. Democrat Lena Taylor said the Republican-backed voucher school program has “raped” the students of Milwaukee Public Schools by taking millions of dollars away from the district.

The comparison drew a sharp rebuke from Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield.

“I just find that sick,” he said. “That’s actually sick.”

Under the proposal as adopted by the committee, a $127 million cut Walker proposed in public school funding next year would be undone. While Walker’s budget held aid for public schools flat over two years, the new plan would increase funding by $100 per student, or about $69 million, above current levels in the second year.

Walker had proposed eliminating the 1,000-student enrollment cap on the statewide private school voucher program, but proponents objected because the way he funded it would have lowered the amount of the payment to students.

The budget committee voted to eliminate the cap, and instead limit participation to no more than 1 percent of a district’s total enrollment. That would increase by 1 percentage point a year for a decade until there would be no cap.

If 1 percent of all roughly 794,000 public school students outside of Milwaukee took a voucher, about 8,000 students would be in the program. This year there were 1,000 students in the two-year-old statewide program and about 1,700 in Racine, where vouchers began in 2011.

The program, modeled after open enrollment for public schools, is estimated to cost public schools about $48 million over the next two years.

Creating a special needs voucher program, funded similar to the regular program with money coming out of aid to public schools, drew opposition from a coalition of disabilities rights groups. They have long opposed the move, saying students won’t have the same rights in private schools they’re guaranteed in public schools.

Special needs vouchers “are not correlated with improved outcomes for students and every proposal introduced to date has lacked any meaningful accountability for either parents or taxpayers,” the coalition said.

But Republican supporters said it was all about giving parents choices about where to send their children.

“The sky is not falling,” said Rep. Mary Czaja, R-Irma. “The sun will come up tomorrow morning. This is just one more option for parents.”

Another part of the plan would give control of the worst-performing Milwaukee Public Schools to a commissioner appointed by the county executive who could then convert them into independent charter or private voucher schools. The plan would also apply to other districts with more than 15,000 students that meet certain criteria, including having the lowest rating on school report cards two years in a row.

Scott Walker’s voucher plan could cost public schools an additional $48 million

Public school districts could face an additional $48 million hit over the next two years under the voucher program included in Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget, according to a new memo from state financial analysts.

A Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo obtained by The Associated Press provides new details about Walker’s proposal to lift the 1,000-student statewide cap on voucher participation and create a program similar to open enrollment.

Under the plan, any public school student could apply for a voucher. Private school students enrolling in kindergarten, first grade or ninth grade would also be eligible.

Similar to open enrollment, students would receive funding from their district of residence to attend a voucher school under the proposal. The memo sets out that voucher students in kindergarten through 8th grade would receive $7,210, and high school students would receive $7,856.

Public school districts currently pay $6,635 for each student who moves via open enrollment to another public district.

More than 3,540 students applied this year to receive a taxpayer-funded voucher to attend private and religious schools in the third year of the statewide program, more than triple the enrollment cap of 1,000, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction said in a recent report. That number is up 4 percent from last year.

State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, requested the memo. His spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Voucher supporters say the program gives students in struggling public schools an opportunity to offset the cost of attending a private school.

Jim Bender, president of the group School Choice Wisconsin, said public school districts already pay to have students who move via open enrollment in other public school districts. He said applying additional payments for voucher students wouldn’t add much more to each district’s budget.

“It doesn’t seem to be causing any heartache when students go between public schools,” Bender said.

Opponents, primarily Democrats and public school advocates, say the program isn’t accountable to taxpayers and is part of a broader agenda to defund public education.

Betsy Kippers, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, a statewide teachers union, said the state should support its public schools so students across the state have access to quality education.

“This week it was announced that 86 percent of voucher applicants for next year don’t even go to public school now,” Kippers said in a statement, referring to DPI’s report. “Meanwhile, public school students have fewer teachers and less one-on-one attention.”

The voucher program began in Milwaukee in 1990, the first city in the country to offer the taxpayer subsidies to help poor children leave struggling schools. Since 2011, Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature have expanded it.

Walker and Republicans created a voucher program in Racine, eliminated enrollment caps there and in Milwaukee and raised income limits to allow middle-class students to participate.

The number of students applying from public schools decreased from 633 last year to 526 this year, a difference of 107.

All applicants in the statewide program, whether they attend public or private schools, must meet income requirements. A single parent with three children can earn up to $44,828 per year. For a married couple with two children, the cutoff is $53,310 annually.

To qualify in Racine, an applicant’s family income must be less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level. That equates to $71,637 for a family of four.

Kudos to Wisconsin Republicans for standing up to Scott Walker’s wrecking-ball budget

We often use this space to criticize the Republican Party of Wisconsin for putting the interests of its wealthy supporters above those of voters. So it’s with pleasure that we acknowledge the integrity a number of GOP lawmakers have shown in standing up to Gov. Scott Walker’s wrecking-ball of a budget.

To clarify, WiG does not support the budget in its current state, and no one knows exactly what the final budget will look like when it comes to a vote in early June. Between now and then, there will be a lot of horse-trading on budgetary items.

But we applaud the wrangling. In 2011, Walker presented a drastic budget that his Republican majority rubber-stamped without debate or analysis. The results were disastrous.

This year, confronted with a budget that’s even more destructive, GOP leaders have balked. They’ve listened to thousands of Wisconsinites who’ve turned out for public hearings and listening sessions on the budget and they’ve concluded that some of its key proposals would cause great harm to the state without providing in return a sustainable solution for resolving Walker’s self-created budget crisis.

GOP lawmakers have learned a lot by listening: that Wisconsinites value education over tax rebates for already profitable corporations; that citizens treasure our natural resources and want them maintained for future generations; that people across the political spectrum are outraged over Walker’s proposal to eliminate popular grassroots programs enabling the elderly and disabled to remain in their homes. (That last proposal will not save the state a dollar and has already cost Wisconsin 700 jobs, but it frees up millions for Walker to award to his for-profit insurance industry cronies.)

Polling has confirmed voter resistance to key budget proposals. A Marquette University Law School poll found 70 percent oppose Walker’s plan to cut University of Wisconsin funding by $300 million, while only 26 percent support it. The poll found 78 percent oppose Walker’s plan to reduce funding for K-12 schools by another $127 million. Sixty percent of those polled oppose Walker’s plan to make the Department of Natural Resources an advisory board — a plan that Republicans in the Legislature have already stripped from the budget.

And 54 percent of voters oppose Walker’s plan eliminating enrollment limits in the private school voucher program, another item that GOP lawmakers have already said will not be adopted as proposed.

To their credit and the state’s benefit, GOP legislative leaders have indicated that none of these proposals will be enacted as proposed. And they will succeed: Walker is eager to move forward with his presidential campaign and he’s not likely to risk a protracted, high-profile battle over positions that appeal only to fringe-right Republican Iowa caucus voters.

In an aside, GOP legislators also appear poised to prevent a repeal of the state’s “prevailing wage” law. Enacted in 1931, the law ensures that government contractors must pay standard wages to workers, which prevents underbidding on projects by businesses that don’t pay for skilled labor. The result is shoddy public works, fewer consumer dollars circulating in the economy and downward pressure on the pay scale for everyone.

For the first time since Walker took office, we see meaningful bipartisan dialogue occurring in Madison. It appears that Republican lawmakers are seriously considering input from the other of the aisle.

To be sure, the state has far to go in bridging the political divide created by Walker’s self-professed “divide-and-conquer” strategy. Gerrymandering has given the Republicans an ironclad majority, an unhealthy political situation that enables autocratic rule.

But just as we’re experiencing the first mild breezes of spring, we can sense something of a thaw in Madison that gives us hope.

Denver schools take lead in hiring DREAMer teachers

Like many sojourners to this country, Alejandro Fuentes Mena lives with uncertainty as U.S. immigration policy is debated in the courts, Congress and the White House. But as he awaits a final ruling on his own future, he’s helping other young people build their dreams.

Fuentes, who settled in the United States illegally as a child, is a Denver elementary school teacher under a pilot program that recruits young immigrants like him to teach disadvantaged students. Teach for America, a national nonprofit running the program, believes people like Fuentes can be role models for students.

Fuentes, 23, has applied for a work permit and reprieve from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a presidential order. Recipients of deferred action, like Fuentes, are also known as DREAMers.

Fuentes wasn’t directly affected by a judicial order this year that stopped the White House from expanding the number of immigrants who could remain in the country temporarily. But it left him worried. “If they overturn this part of immigration reform, will they go back and overturn other parts?” he said.

In the meantime, the Teach for America program he’s involved in has grown from two teachers in Denver, where it was launched last year, to 40 teachers in classrooms across the country, including Arizona, California and New Mexico. Denver’s 11 instructors with DACA status comprise the largest group. Teach for America plans to create more opportunities for immigrants like Fuentes.

The organization has been recruiting and training teachers since 1989 with the goal of helping disadvantaged students by encouraging bright college graduates to teach them.

Sean VanBerschot, Teach for America’s executive director in Colorado, said the Denver Public Schools district was the right place for DREAMer teachers because of its commitment to closing an achievement gap between white students and students of other races. More than 87,000 students, nearly two-thirds of them Hispanic and a third of them English-language learners, are enrolled in Denver public schools.

“Some of our greatest demand is for strong bilingual teachers,” said Shayne Spalten, chief human resources officer for Denver Public Schools. “In the past, we have had to do extensive recruitment internationally and nationally to try and meet this demand. These (DREAMer) teachers bring an extraordinary commitment to teaching and life experiences that are similar to the experiences of many of our students.”

Critics question whether Teach for America’s five-week training course leaves candidates unprepared for the classroom and discouraged from making teaching a career. Candidates commit to two years’ teaching.

Keri Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association teachers’ union, said one thing Teach for America does “exceptionally well is recruit quality candidates. But if those high quality candidates don’t stay in the classroom beyond two years, then we really haven’t solved the problem.”

Denver’s initiative has inspired other districts to look at DREAMers. In Colorado’s Eagle County, home to Vail, Superintendent Jason Glass is considering hiring teachers with DACA status. Half the district’s 6,800 public school students are Hispanic, and 40 percent are learning English.

“Denver definitely put the idea in our heads,” Glass said.

Fuentes was a toddler in Valparaiso, Chile, when his mother set off for the United States. He was 4 when he joined her in San Diego, and he grew up in the U.S. without legal status. At times, the family was homeless as his mother and stepfather worked for low wages building homes, packing fruit and caring for children and the elderly.

Fuentes remembers feeling hopeless in his last year of high school in California. He had an A-minus average, but his immigration status put many college scholarships out of reach. A teacher encouraged him to persevere. He secured a full scholarship and, as he prepared to graduate with a psychology degree from Whitman College, the first DACA order was announced.

Fuentes began teaching English in a low-income Denver neighborhood and saw a need for what he could offer.

When he first shared his life story with his fifth-graders, one put in extra effort on a writing assignment, saying, “`I decided that I was going to push myself further,'” Fuentes said.

Wisconsin reading, math scores up slightly

Reading and math scores for most Wisconsin public school students increased slightly on tests administered last fall, but wide achievement gaps between white students and minorities persist, results released this week show.

Test results for students participating in the taxpayer-subsidized private school voucher program were to be released later Tuesday.

The scores are looked at closely by parents, educators and policy makers to assess both how well students are learning and how schools are doing at educating them. Last year, the report showed voucher school students lagging their public school counterparts, a finding that only further fueled the rancorous debate in the Legislature over expanding the program.

Ultimately, the Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker reached an agreement to allow vouchers in 25 additional schools or school systems, with a 500-student cap beyond Milwaukee and Racine. That cap grows to 1,000 students next year, and advocates plan to push for even greater expansion.

The public school results showed that just under half of the state’s students — nearly 49 percent — scored either proficient or advanced, the two highest ratings, in math. In reading, just over a third — nearly 37 percent — were proficient or advanced.

The scores were up slightly from last year, when 48.1 percent of students were proficient or advanced in math, and 36.2 percent were in reading.

Five years ago, about 47 percent were proficient or advanced in math and nearly 36 percent were in reading.

As has been the case for years, minority students continue to lag. American Indian, black and Hispanic students all had fewer proficient or advanced math scores. In reading, all minority groups, including Asian students, scored lower than their white counterparts.

The disparity was deepest among black students, where only 18 percent were in the highest two ranks in math and just 14 percent were in reading. White students were 56 percent proficient or advanced in math and almost 43 percent were in reading.

“Our achievement gaps are no secret and are too large,” state Superintendent Tony Evers said in a statement.

A task force Evers created to study the issue plans to meet for the first time today.

The tests show that over 42 percent of Wisconsin students are in poverty. That is a 5 percentage point increase over the past five years. While just over 30 percent of white students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, nearly 82 percent of black students qualify, along with nearly 78 percent of Hispanic students and more than 68 percent of American Indians.

The results reported Tuesday are the last under the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations, which have been used to assess student achievement since 1992. Those tests are being replaced next school year with new annual online exams, and another component that can measure progress throughout the year instead of just one point in time.

Every high school junior in Wisconsin will also take the ACT college entrance exam, with the state picking up the $50 fee. All 11th graders will also take another test designed to assess job skills called WorkKeys. Students in elementary grades would take a new test being designed by a 28-state consortium that includes Wisconsin.

The tests are aligned with the Common Core education standards.

Evers, who advocated for the new tests, said they will help the Department of Public Instruction close achievement gaps and prepare students to graduate ready for college or a career.

Nearly all of the state’s 430,600 students in grades three through eight and 10 took the reading and math tests last fall.

150 students to lobby in Madison for tuition equity bill

About 150 students with Youth Empowered in the Struggle, the youth arm of Voces de la Frontera, will gather at the Capitol in Madison today (March 18) to lobby lawmakers. They’ll be urging passage of a bill to allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition.

The legislation, introduced by state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, would allow in-state tuition for undocumented students under three conditions:

• Graduation from high school or received a declaration of equivalency in Wisconsin

• Residing in the state for at least three years after attending their first day of high school.

• Signing an affidavit saying they have filed or will file for permanent residency in the United States as soon as they are eligible to do so.

Undocumented students who attend a University of Wisconsin school or technical college must currently pay out-of-state tuition, which is two to three times the cost of in-state tuition.

Organizers of the lobbying day say students will meet with lawmakers in the morning and then march from the Capitol to rally at the Library Mall on the UW-Madison campus. 

Some students also will be in the Assembly Gallery when Zamarripa address tuition equity on the House floor. That’s expected to happen just before the march. 

José Trejo, a teacher at ALAS High School in Milwaukee, planned to participate in the events. “As a teacher, it is educational malpractice to tell students that education is their key to the American Dream, yet know full well that the access to this key does not exist for many of them,” he said in a news release. “In state tuition is essential if we are to live up to the ideals of the founding of this country.”

Terresita Becerra, a Reagan High School student honor student from Milwaukee, also planned to participate. “Marching and lobbying in Madison will be a turning point in my education,” she stated. “This affects me personally because I myself have to pay out of state tuition rates, even though I’ve studied in Wisconsin my entire life.”

Be there …

Who: Students from across Wisconsin involved with Youth Empowered in the Struggle calling on elected officials to support tuition equity for immigrant students.

What: March, rally and lobby day for tuition equity.

WHERE: Madison at the State Capitol in Madison to march to the Library Mall on the UW campus, where a rally will be held. 

When: About 2 p.m.

University president stands by effort to prevent kids from reading liberal historian’s ‘A People’s History’

Purdue University President Mitch Daniels is standing by his efforts to keep liberal historian Howard Zinn’s work from being taught in Indiana schools, saying the actions he took while governor were meant to keep the book out of the hands of K-12 students.

Meanwhile, the university’s board of trustees threw their support behind the former politician, approving a $58,000 bonus to reward him for his first six months on the job.

Daniels told reporters after a meeting of the board that a statement he made as governor that Indiana should “disqualify the propaganda” he saw being used in Indiana’s teacher preparation courses was meant only to keep Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” from being taught in the state’s K-12 classrooms.

“The question is, would this lead to this material being taught to innocent school children? I promise that if the parents of Indiana understood what was in the book in question, 99 if not 100 out of 100 would want some other book used,” Daniels said after the trustees’ meeting on the West Lafayette campus.

Daniels has come under fire in academic circles for the 2010 emails, which were obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

After learning that Zinn’s book was being used in a summer teacher training course at Indiana University, Daniels signed off on education adviser David Shane’s proposal to review university courses across the state to determine what should count as credit.

“Go for it. Disqualify propaganda and highlight (if there is any) the more useful offerings. Don’t the ed schools have at least some substantive PD (professional development) courseware to upgrade knowledge of math, science, etc.,” Daniels wrote.

After being told Zinn’s work was being used at Indiana University in a course for teachers on the Civil Rights, feminist and labor movements, Daniels wrote:

“This crap should not be accepted for any credit by the state. No student will be better taught because someone sat through this session. Which board has jurisdiction over what counts and what doesn’t?”

Critics say the emails support their contention that he is not qualified to lead a major university.

But supporters say Daniels was right to challenge the use of Zinn’s work, which addresses American history from the viewpoint of those whose plights he said were often omitted from most history textbooks. It has been widely criticized by many conservatives and scholars and characterized by historian Eugene D. Genovese as “incoherent left-wing sloganizing.”

The American Historical Association, a nonpartisan group that sets academic standards of review and publication for historians nationwide, on Friday issued a statement saying it “deplores the spirit and intent” of Daniels’ emails. The association said it considered any governor’s effort to interfere with an individual teacher’s reading assignments “inappropriate and a violation of academic freedom.”

“Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of Howard Zinn’s text, and whatever the criticisms that have been made of it, we believe that the open discussion of controversial books benefits students, historians, and the general public alike. Attempts to single out particular texts for suppression from a school or university curriculum have no place in a democratic society,” the statement read.

Daniels says he is a firm supporter of academic freedom.

Keith Krach, who stepped down as chairman of Purdue’s board of trustees Friday, said he was unaware of the 2010 email exchange when trustees appointed Daniels president in mid-2012 but said they wouldn’t have changed his decision.

“One of the big things that we talked with Mitch about during the search and selection process is academic freedom, as we would any other president. And he not only believes in it wholeheartedly, but he’s demonstrated it as president,” Krach said.

Since taking over at Purdue, Daniels has hosted a lecture on speech suppression at universities nationwide, and he sent an “open letter” to the Purdue community in January saying universities have squashed free speech rather than encourage it.

Daniels appointed a majority of the Purdue trustees, including Krach.

Law allowing teaching of creationism in school science classes to stay

A Louisiana law that allows public school science teachers to use supplemental materials in their classrooms will remain on the books, despite criticism that it’s a back-door way to teach creationism.

The Senate Education Committee voted 3-2 this week against a proposal by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, to repeal the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, in what has become an annual debate before the panel.

More than 70 Nobel Prize-winning scientists have urged the scrapping of the 2008 law. The repeal effort is led by Zack Kopplin, a Rice University student from Baton Rouge who has drummed up support from scientists around the country.

“This law is about going back into the Dark Ages, not moving forward into the 21st century,” Kopplin said. “Louisiana students deserve to be taught sound science and that means the theory of evolution, not creationism.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal and Christian conservatives are among those who oppose the repeal, saying the law promotes critical thinking and strengthens education. Some opponents of Peterson’s bill also challenged evolution as a scientific fact.

“If we can’t think critically, then we might as well throw out the scientific method,” said Mary Passman, a home-schooled 14-year-old from Baton Rouge. She said critics of the law oppose it “because they don’t want you to know that evolution has some serious problems.”

The law still requires science teachers to use approved textbooks. However, it allows use of supplemental materials on science subjects including evolution, cloning and global warming. 

Guidelines adopted by the state education board banned promotion of a religious doctrine in the supplemental materials and required that information presented by teachers be “scientifically sound and supported by empirical evidence.” The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education didn’t include a specific ban on the teaching of creationism, however.

BESE can prohibit supplemental materials it deems inappropriate, but teachers and local school boards don’t need its prior approval to introduce supplemental material.  

“The act is written very cleverly to create a loophole to allow (creationism) to be snuck in,” Kopplin said.

Sen. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, said he worried that repealing the law could shut out debate of differing ideas and concepts. Other lawmakers opposing repeal said they’ve heard no instances where the law was used to introduce religion into science classrooms.

Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel and Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, questioned whether any complaints had ever been filed about creationism being taught in schools since the law was passed.

Kopplin acknowledged no complaint has ever been lodged.

“I don’t want the message out there that we’re teaching bad science,” Appel, R-Metairie, said.

Jim Dugan, an anthropology instructor at Tulane University, called it “faint praise” to support the law simply because no one has reported a problem yet.

“Louisiana deserves national ridicule for having this act,” he said.

Senators supporting repeal said the law has created a view of Louisiana as anti-science.

“I think science would continue to be taught without this act, and I do think that it’s a problem for the national perception,” said Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, who supported the repeal.

Voting against the repeal were Guillory, Walsworth and Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, R-Denham Springs. Voting for the repeal were Claitor and Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte. Appel didn’t vote.