Louisiana’s HB 580: The Flat-Earth Option

You may find this difficult to believe, but the Louisiana legislature is taking yet another step into the darkness. Bear with us and all will be revealed. In the Westport News of Westport, Connecticut we read Bill would lessen restrictions on school textbooks.

It’s an Associated Press story about some additional creationist madness in Louisiana. That maniacally-governed state doesn’t have enough of it yet. We can’t excerpt much from the AP story, but we’ll do our best to let you know what’s happening.

A member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, Frank Hoffmann (that’s his page at the legislature’s website), has introduced a bill in the House Education Committee that would change the way textbooks are selected.

Hoffman represents Ouachita Parish. He’s a retired assistant superintendent of their school system. Drawing upon the wisdom he’s accumulated as a career bureaucrat in the public school system, Hoffman has introduced House Bill 580. We’re certain that this is only the first of several posts we’ll be writing about it.

That bill is, at least for the moment, clumsy to find at the legislature’s website. Go here: HB580 – 2011 Regular Session, which takes you to a starting page. Scroll way down to the “Bill Search” section. The second window down there should say “HB” and you’ll need to put 580 in the third window. Then click the “View” button. Yee-haw — you’re there!

In the “History” section you’ll see that the bill passed the Committee on Education yesterday, so now it’s going to be voted on by the entire House. Can you guess what’s going to happen there?

The text of Hoffman’s bill can be found here: HOUSE BILL NO. 580. It’s a 9-page pdf file, with a load of strike-throughs and substituted stuff. It’s difficult reading, but we’ll struggle through it.

The guts of it, in our humble opinion, is that lists of basic text books chosen by the board — the word “board” isn’t defined, but we think it’s the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) — shall be “recommended” — the bill adds that word to an existing law that says: “The board shall adopt lists of [add: recommended] basic textbooks.” The new bill means that the board’s textbook lists are more or less meaningless; they’d be advisory at best. Adding the word “recommended” means that each local school would be on its own.

But that’s not all. The bill would also authorize local schools (not the board, which now has the authority):

to select and purchase textbooks not included on the lists adopted by the board pursuant to the provisions of this Section, provided that such authorization shall be subject to [delete: prior approval] the rules and regulations adopted by the board.

So local schools can ignore the “recommended” lists and then go out and buy their own texts — with state money. But there is this safeguard in Hoffman’s bill:

The board may disapprove of the use of textbooks not on the state list of recommended textbooks.

The board can disapprove, but their prior approval isn’t required. That’s nice. Notice that it’s utterly unclear what the board’s disapproval means, and there are no procedures described for resolving such an issue. “Disapproval” is something the board would have to initiate on its own, and then they’d have to blaze a trail through the trackless administrative jungle. This disapproval mess would, we assume, be occurring after the local school has already bought the books.

Additional provisions of Hoffman’s bill delete existing law that authorizes the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to “prescribe and adopt and exercise control and supervision over the distribution and use of free school books and other materials of instruction for use in elementary and secondary schools and special schools.”

We’re not sure about this stuff — it’s a lot of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo — but it looks to us as if Hoffman’s bill would let each local school transform itself into a flat-earth academy if it wanted to, with the only limitation being that the “board” (presumably BESE) could disapprove the textbooks chosen by the school — but there’s no provision for board approval in the first place. That’s a clumsy and intentionally toothless safeguard.

Okay, that’s our first-day analysis. Let’s go back to the AP story in the Westport News. They say that in the committee hearing which approved the bill:

Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, questioned whether the state should be moving away from uniform textbooks when pushing uniform accountability standards. He also asked whether the bill would let school districts introduce creationism into science classes.

Penetrating question. Here’s what AP says was Hoffman’s answer:

“That’s not the purpose of this, but a system would have more flexibility in any of their books, including science books,” replied Hoffmann, R-West Monroe.

Ah, creationism isn’t the purpose. No, of course it isn’t. All Hoffman wants is “flexibility” in choosing science books. We can always take the word of a creationist politician. One last excerpt:

BESE supported Hoffmann’s proposal Wednesday, along with several religious groups, school superintendents, local school boards and Gov. Bobby Jindal.

So there you are, dear reader — more madness in Louisiana. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn on 23 June 2011, so they have more than enough time to adopt this enlightened law for academic freedom, allowing each school the right to decide for itself to become a Flat-Earth Academy. This is a good law for Louisiana.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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6 responses to “Louisiana’s HB 580: The Flat-Earth Option

  1. The fact that Louisiana has the most dismal record of education (with the associated poverty and other social ills) breaks my heart. These people deserve to be brought into the 21st Century (or even the 20th). Dipwads like Hoffman wants to keep them in the dark ages apparently. He is a disservice to his constituents, and they are too ignorant to notice.

  2. We’re not sure about this stuff — it’s a lot of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo — but it looks to us as if Hoffman’s bill would let each local school transform itself into a flat-earth academy if it wanted to…

    Not to poke any bears, but deregulation of public school curricula essentially makes them more like charter schools, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t the whole charter argument that the government at the district or state level is doing a poor job managing these schools, so parents should be free to use their tax money on schools which are more locally managed? Well – if this bill passes, the Ouichita public schools will be more locally managed. It seems to me local control is a very two-edged sword.

  3. Louisiana is building a fine Dover Trap. If idiotic commenters are anything to go by, there are enough comments along the lines of the “legislature protecting teachers,” etc to realize the Louisiana public does not have a clue.

    Any school or school district that teaches creationism could get sued and would most definitely lose that case, as evidenced by every creationist case that’s been tried. These bills offer no protection whatsoever. They are only enticing the gullible and delusional into a courtroom.

  4. The Louisiana Family Forum has previously hailed Ouachita Parish school district as having a model curriculum statement. Since Hoffman represents that parish, you can bet that Hoffman is in the LFF’s back pocket.

  5. Doc Bill, you’re correct. However, that IS exactly what they want. On a federal level, Creationists are trying to get sued as well for no other reason then to keep the courts tied up on the issue until they finally get a break and accidentally win one. And one win, any win, will open the flood gates that we can never close again. They have plenty of time and plenty of money and won’t be going anywhere soon. We just have to buckle up and try to stay vigilant during what will be a very long and very bumpy ride.

  6. Hoffman is very much the LFF’s man, and was most unhappy when he and the LFF lost their battle against the biology textbooks at the BESE hearings earlier this year. That is apparently when they decided to do an end around and just cut BESE approval (and teachers) completely out of the process. Previously, a district or school board could only spend a small percentage of their state textbook money on textbooks that weren’t on the BESE approved list. This bill will allow them to spend ALL their money on anything they want, and there would have to be a complaint to BESE to even start a process to remove bad textbooks and materials.