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Louisiana budget cuts
John Bel Edwards hugs his wife after taking the oath of office as Louisiana governor on the steps of the Louisiana Capitol in Baton Rouge, La., Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. Edwards is Louisiana’s 56th governor. Credit: AP Photo/Max Becherer, Pool

The special session of the Louisiana legislature coincided with the start of crawfish season — setting conditions for educators to demonstrate the meaning of the expression “crabs in a barrel.”

Marcus Garvey once described crabs in a barrel as the way trapped crustaceans hasten the group’s demise by pulling each other down from individual crab’s efforts to escape the barrel.

Garvey used the expression to describe selfish, individualistic black folk who put other blacks down in efforts to pull themselves up. However, this term can easily be applied to the various activists in education who say they are for children.

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The Louisiana legislative session proved Garvey’s point. Amidst bills for draconian cuts to education and the interrelated sectors that affect students’ lives, no evolved voice demanded protection for educators of all types to guard against omnibus reductions in education spending that ultimately hurt Louisiana’s children.

The crabs in a barrel behavior in Louisiana mimics that of the national advocates who regularly tear down differring views to lift up reform.

The state faced a particularly harsh winter that ushered in the post-Bobby Jindal era. Newly elected Gov. John Bel Edwards inherited from Jindal a $940 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year, as well as a $2 billion budget deficit for the following year. Almost immediately, Rep. Cameron Henry submitted a bill that included $44 million in cuts to public primary and secondary schooling and $5 million from private schools.

Deaf to those efforts to cut education, legislators and advocates waged two battles, and thus cut each other down and failed to get out the barrel.

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First, on the heels of a scathing report on the (lack of) effectiveness of Louisiana’s Scholarship Program (vouchers) published by the Education Research Alliance, legislators and advocates called to cut the voucher program altogether.

The voucher program’s position in an unprotected section of the budget had its opponents running the program’s poor showing to legislators for the offing.

Second, a few charter schools within the Orleans Parish School District waved the threat of lawsuits if the district adopted a new funding formula that would have redistributed funds from those with special needs on the upper end of the spectrum to those on the lower end. As the

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Louisiana Department of Education and two New Orleans districts tried to figure out an equitable way to slice the funding pie, state lawmakers tried to shrink the pie entirely.

The crabs in a barrel behavior in Louisiana mimics that of the national advocates who regularly tear down differing views to lift up reform.

Throughout the years, charter school advocates have used traditional school failures as foils. Voucher zealots have characterized public schools as “trapping” students. At the state level, believers in traditional schools helped get Edwards into office at the expense repudiating the aforementioned groups.

We haven’t heard a prayer from the Archdiocese about the funding for public education. An aside – can anyone make the case for change without shaming or creating an enemy?

Essentially, no one has been a cheerleader education as a whole.

One newspaper article described Superintendent John White’s position on the $25 million drop in the funding for the department since 2012 as “acceptable.” However, a healthy budget created the space to innovate, experiment and increase diversity among and between education programs.

Jindal’s legacy actually renounces conservative thinking that you can cut your way to success. Education has been devalued during Jindal’s tenure. This was especially true in higher education in the state. If K-12 advocates continue to fight each other, then they effectively manage their own downfalls. At some point educators must push back on the thinking that less is more. It makes education seem like a luxury item that can be cut.

In the Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe, Justice Marshall clarified that education is not a fundamental right that is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution (K-12 education is protected by the state constitution). However, Marshall asserted that education is afforded “extraordinary treatment” because citizens or potential citizens cannot achieve any meaningful degree of individual equality without it. Education should not be cut like office supply budgets.

In the end, state lawmakers temporarily increased taxes as a stopgap measure and punted the business of having to make game changing cuts to upcoming traditional and special legislative sessions. There was a small statement offered by the Louisiana Democratic Party signaling a bi-partisan fight to defend teachers. But during the tumult of the special session, no one mobilized educators of all stripes to create a firewall to ward off inevitable attempts to hurt education.

Who’s championing education with a capital “E”? Where is the leadership that seeks a funding framework that allows all education types to evolve and improve?

Gov. Edwards is looking for bipartisan support among some of the largest sectors to help make the case for permanent tax increases to fill looming budget holes for the next and subsequent fiscal years. Instead of leadership, Edwards got a barrel of crabs. But it’s not too late for someone to use his or her humanness to stand and say that education deserves more money and respect than it currently receives.

It’s long past the time to separate the crabs from the educated leaders. Highly educated people evolve from the self-serving political tactics that don’t work for crabs either.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more columns by Andre Perry.

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