Stand for Children Louisiana’s Statement in Response to East Baton Rouge Parish June School Board Meeting

For more than a decade, Stand Louisiana has advocated for improving our state’s literacy rates because we know kids who are reading on grade level by third grade are more likely to graduate high school on time and succeed in the college or the career of their choice. We are made up of more than 300 parent, teacher, and student members in EBR and more than 200 local business and faith leaders representing more than 90,000 constituents as part of our United Faith Leaders.

From installing “Little Free Libraries” across EBR and the state to increase community access to books, supporting successful legislation that expands the number of literacy coaches in our schools, successfully advocating for funding to expand local quality early education seats, supporting the expansion of the Science of Reading professional development for teachers and support staff, and successfully lobbying for more state and local funding for quality early education and reading interventions – our commitment to improving literacy rates to improve lives and pathways to prosperity for families couldn’t be more clear.

Stand Louisiana has been pleased to see EBR Superintendent Dr. Sito Narcisse’s deep commitment to improving third grade literacy rates for students across the district by expanding access to quality early education programs and making historic, evidence-based investments in literacy education. In his first year in EBR, Dr. Narcisse – with support from most board members and as outlined by the board-approved Strategic Plan – ensured that literacy coaches were placed in schools to support students and teachers, provided training and ongoing support to educators and support staff in the Science of Reading, created more than 1,000 new early education seats for families, and made critical investments to drastically expand summer programming to address learning loss due to Covid. On June 21, the district released its Literacy Blueprint for EBR that was developed by the Mayor’s Joint Task Force on Literacy – on which we are proud to serve – doubling-down on literacy as a priority not only for the district but for our city as a whole.

But – as is all too often the case in EBR – election year political posturing by some members of the board threatens to derail more than a year’s worth of progress and halt kindergarten readiness and rising literacy rates for years to come. While the tone of board meetings has been slowly devolving, June’s meeting hit an all-time low. With a few absent board members, one politician took full advantage and, in some cases, was joined by others to ultimately kill over $12 million in funding for early care and education seats and literacy supports for students and teachers.

Board Member Collins’ election year politics could stop 1,200 families from having access to quality early care seats for their three- and four-year olds. Not only will these young learners be kept from early education seats that will help them start school ready to learn, but their parents will be denied opportunities to advance their education and careers due to lack of safe, affordable childcare for their children. 

In a May 2022 poll of 1,823 likely general election registered voters in EBR, 82% reported they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who prioritizes expanding access to quality preschool so more students start kindergarten ready to learn.

There is no excuse for this blatant action by Ms. Collins that will hurt the families who elected her to do right by our kids.

Stand Louisiana calls on the board to bring back the items voted down at the June board meeting and vote in favor of expanding Pre-K education, continuing critical investments in literacy and mental health supports for students, and investing in teacher professional development. We urge the board to pass these items unanimously to demonstrate board unity for students and progress. The community is watching and it is time to put students first.

Click here to sign this petition asking the EBR school board to bring early education, literacy funding, and other student & teacher supports back for another vote.

Less than a year ago, the EBR School Board developed and approved a robust student-centered strategic plan that includes key performance indicators in priority areas to maintain a high level of transparency and accountability for making progress.

Since then, fulfilling his charge to implement that plan and bring about the progress expected by the board, Dr. Narcisse proposed – and the board has approved – strategic investments that expand quality early care and education seats, literacy and math coaches in schools, mental health supports for students, stipends for teachers and support staff, and professional development supports to help educators and school leaders improve their practice.

East Baton Rouge – for the first time we can remember – is being touted at the state and national levels for its work to improve outcomes for all kids and for being the only district in the state that has created robust online dashboards so parents, the community, and taxpayers can see how the district is moving toward the key performance indicators and investing federal dollars to achieve success for students. The board and superintendent should be applauded for these efforts.

As is expected of any agency when implementing a new strategic plan, budgeting and staffing must be aligned. And, in a system that has for far too long misaligned staffing with student need, proper alignment was never going to be an easy task. For years, our parent and student members have shared stories about long term substitutes and paraprofessionals staffing core subjects, classes in core subjects that have gone without a teacher for over six months, and schools with no athletics or coaches while other schools have more teachers and coaches than student enrollment or interest demands. This staffing plan seeks to right-size staffing so that all East Baton Rouge students can succeed and make our community stronger.

Let’s face it – reallocations and reassignments are never easy, no matter how strategic. Staffing changes are particularly challenging right now given unprecedented teacher shortages across our district, state, and country. Compounding the challenge and despite Dr. Narcisse’s best efforts, there were unfortunate gaps in communication at a few schools.

While the communication at those few schools should have been better, the bigger picture is that the administration is to be commended for its commitment to students and courage to make tough decisions and reassignments necessary to realize the school board’s bold, student-centered vision.

Unfortunately, a few community leaders with narrow political agendas are trying to capitalize on understandable fears, confusion, and frustration of certain teachers and parents concerned with the staffing changes. These opportunists allege a lack of community engagement by the district that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The truth is that, after many years of instability during which inequities widened and overall performance stagnated, our district is on the rise. Dr. Narcisse, his team, and his supporters on the school board deserve tremendous credit and our support.

Stand for Children Louisiana is an organization that has worked with parents, the community, faith leaders, educators, and elected officials for more than 10 years. What we strive for is education equity and racial justice, and we are fierce advocates for transparency and community engagement.

We believe passionately that the board, superintendent, and the administration deserve credit for their bold, courageous leadership for students and for moving with a sense of urgency many of us never believed could be possible for the students and families in East Baton Rouge.

We urge the community and board to support the actions initiated to meet the goals outlined in the student-centered strategic plan, work with Dr. Narcisse and his team to make improvements where necessary, and join in the effort to make all East Baton Rouge schools high quality and a place where every parent wants to send their child.

If you agree and would like to email the EBR Board, you may use the following list of emails: [email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected].

Stand is pleased to co-sponsor, along with the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children and other partners, Early Education Day at the Capitol on Tuesday, May 10 from 9a.m. to 3p.m. Please consider coming to the Capitol to show your support for quality early care and education to legislators. Click here to register for Early Ed Day.

Last week, the pace picked up as the Legislature decided to adjourn Thursday for the holiday weekend. A number of bills that Stand is tracking were voted on, with more receiving committee hearings.

HB 269 by Rep. Nelson passed the House with a vote of 84-12 and has been sent to the Senate. This bill would prohibit promotion to the fourth grade if a student has reading deficiencies that have not been remedied by the end of the third grade.

HB 649 by Rep. Hilferty would prohibit corporal punishment in public schools. It was voted on in the House on May 5 and failed by a narrow margin, 51-42. A motion to reconsider the vote is pending.

Last Wednesday, SB 47 by Sen. Fields passed the Senate 36-0. SB 47 would require public schools to offer pre-K. It has been assigned to the House Education Committee and is scheduled to be heard on Wednesday.

The Senate also voted favorably last Wednesday on SB 50 by Sen. Hewitt, which passed 35-0. This bill would allow students who attended schools that did not offer desired technical courses to attend other public schools that did have those classes. It too has been assigned to House Education and will be heard Wednesday.

This week will have a heavy workload as legislators try to move all of the legislative instruments before sine die on June 6. The Revenue Estimating Conference will meet Monday morning, and if additional state revenue is recognized it is possible that teacher and support staff pay raises could be higher than what has been proposed in HCR 23.

HCR 23 by Rep. Lance Harris will be heard Monday morning in the House Appropriations Committee. The resolution has already been reported favorably out of the House Education Committee. It is the $4 billion plus MFP that allocates state funds to support approximately 650,000 students enrolled in public education across the state. This year’s proposed MFP includes an increase of about $200 million over last year’s formula. Most of that increase is for teacher and support worker pay raises. The Legislature cannot amend the MFP, which is submitted by BESE, it can only accept or reject it.

Also on the Appropriations Committee agenda is HB 526 by Rep. Edmonds. This bill would require local school boards to post financial information on their websites.

Finally in that committee is HB 707 by Rep. Duplessis. HB 707 would align Louisiana with most other states by instituting automatic expungement of criminal records after a certain period of time for specific crimes.

The House Education Committee is meeting on both Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Tuesday’s agenda lists a handful of vaccine bills, but also includes several that Stand is tracking, some in support and some in opposition.

HB 536 by Rep. Cox would lower the minimum ACT score required to qualify for a TOPS-Tech scholarship from 17 to 15.

HB 782 by Rep. Phelps would require that the appointment of a principal by a superintendent be subject to the approval of the local school board.

HB 792 by Rep. Phelps provides relative to literacy instruction and reading support services for overage students in grades 6-12.

HB 808 by Rep. Hodges would expand the Parents’ Bill of Rights for Public Schools by adding the following language as a right: “That the school shall not discriminate against their child by teaching the child that the child is currently or destined to be oppressed or to be an oppressor based on the child’s race or national origin.”

As previously mentioned, Wednesday’s agenda includes SBs 47 and 50, but also the following bills of interest.

SB 45 by Sen. Foil would require that public school governing authorities adopt policies relative to cameras in certain classrooms by 12/31/22.

SB 190 by Sen. Hewitt would establish the Computer Science Education Act to develop a computer science education program.

SB 261 by Sen. Fields would provide for public postsecondary education transfer pathways.

As of the wriring of this blog, the Senate Education Committee has not yet posted its agenda but it will be online 24 hours prior to the meeting date.

We will continue to keep you informed throughout the session. All bills can be viewed at the legislative website

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “retreat” as a period of group withdrawal for study or instruction under a director. On Saturday, April 9th, I packed my bags and headed to the state capitol, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the Stand for Children Louisiana LEAD Fellowship retreat. After teaching for more than 20 years, I felt a responsibility to have my voice heard. LEAD gives you the tools on how to be an advocate for education.

Teachers are lifelong learners, and I was determined to learn more about public policy and advocacy. I have been a LEAD (Louisiana Educator Advocacy Educator) fellow for three years.  We meet virtually monthly, but this is the first time since 2018 that we are meeting in person.

Day 0

Our first event for the LEAD retreat was a welcome dinner Saturday night for those of us traveling from out of town.  These people in person were very different than just a face in a box on a computer screen from our webinars.  Despite the fact that we had spent months getting to know each other virtually, sitting there in person was awkward. 

However, once we made our in-person introductions and shared our thoughts on advocacy and policy, I remembered that these are phenomenal educators from all over the state and we are all here for the same reason, TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.   

Day 1

On Sunday, April 10th, we all met up in the lobby of our hotel at 8:30 a.m. and walked to the Stand Louisiana office for the first day of our retreat.  We were greeted by the extraordinary Karen Clark, Marketing, Communications, and Development Director for Stand Louisiana. The incomparable, Kim Eckert, 2018 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year, (one of her very many accolades) facilitated the day’s schedule including facilitated networking; the incredible guest speaker, Tramelle Howard, East Baton Rouge Parish School System Board Member; equity in education, leadership, advocacy, policy, and the making change protocol. The end of the first day came too quickly. 

My fellow LEAD advocates include teachers, librarians, and administrators but in this room, we all have one goal: to impact education policy for the good of the communities we serve.

Faten works with other LEAD Fellows in a small group.

We walked back to our hotel where some of us headed back to our rooms to recharge and some of us, including myself, headed to the pool to relax and chat. We all met up in the lobby at 5:30 p.m. and walked to the restaurant. Dinner was a conversation about current bills and policy led by Stand Louisiana’s Executive Director, Carrie Griffin Monica and Government Affairs Director, Brigitte Nieland, to prepare us for our visit to the Capitol the following day.

Day 2

Monday, April 11th, we met up in the lobby and walked to the Stand Louisiana office for a brief orientation.  From there, we walked to the Capitol. When we arrived, we took a group picture for posterity and then headed into the Capitol building. The feeling of walking into this historical building is overwhelming.  This is my 2nd time visiting the Capitol building and I still had this immense feeling of history.  You can read about the Capitol and its history but there is no substitute for experiential learning that happens when you are there.  We started the day with a mock committee meeting.  The LEAD fellows all agreed, THIS was their favorite part of the retreat. We played the role of the bill author, committee member, committee chair, concerned community member, and subject matter expert. The experience of being part of a mock committee meeting taught us about the ceremony of it all including the procedures, the language, and the order. 

Faten sits at the table to provide testimony during a mock committee meeting.

After lunch in the Capitol’s cafeteria, LEAD fellows attended a House Appropriations Meeting where we were recognized by Representative Jack McFarland.  We also attended a meeting of the Senate Committee on Retirement about a bill that could double pay for retired teachers who return to the classroom. Next, Fellows went on a tour of the Capitol including a trip to the top of the tower. Of course, another group picture for posterity was necessary.

Faten stretches to take a group selfie at the top of the Capitol building in Baton Rouge.

We then attended a full House meeting where we watched Representatives debate more bills.  A great day of learning! Honestly, what we saw and what we heard just validated why we need more educators to be advocates and have their voices heard.  Whether we voice our perspectives or not, laws are being passed that will affect us and our communities.  Our silence also says something.

We went directly to dinner where we got to spend time with Dr. Cade Brumley, Louisiana State Superintendent, and many of our BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) members. We spoke candidly about our profession, our students, our communities, and our perspectives on laws.  We also heard the same from the BESE members.  This type of conversation allows BESE to better represent us and allows us to better understand BESE members’ role and thought processes.

Faten talks with Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley.

This day was a culmination of our preparation for months, sharing our voice with policy and law makers.

Day 3

Tuesday, April 12th, we drove to the Claiborne Building, home of the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) and BESE meetings. Yes, another group picture but with shades because our future is so bright. First, we met with Torey Hayward, Director of Teacher Leadership at LDOE, who shared his inspirational story with the LEAD Fellows. I know Torey as a fellow teacher from Jefferson Parish. There were quite a lot of familiar faces working at LDOE; people I had worked with that I was elated to see again. Fellow educators who are making a difference working to make education for our communities better.


Faten and the rest of the Fellows had to wear shades because the future is BRIGHT!

Fellows then attended BESE committee meetings where they were recognized by Dr. Brumley. 

The Retreat

The retreat was full of activities and experiences but just like that, the retreat came to an end. 

Where else could I have met these incredible educators from all over the state? Although, we all have different areas of expertise, being in a room of like-minded people is just what I needed.

Listening to stories and experiences of other LEAD Fellows and how they got to this point in their education career was inspiring.  Hearing about their struggles, challenges, and successes was empowering.  Learning about public policy advocacy, how to find your voice and be heard by policy makers is priceless. If you are an educator, and want to have your voice heard, apply to the LEAD Fellowship and become an advocate!