Less than one percent


Voting records on legislative instruments for the most part are predictable. While some items are split almost perfectly down party lines, others can show where core values and personal convictions stray from the political party. Sometimes it’s a social issue of particular importance to the person. Other times a vote is cast from someone who has significant experience and knowledge on the topic and can foresee concerns no one else can. Whatever the reason it is very rare to be the sole vote in the legislature in favor or against an item, but it does happen.

HB264 – Computer Science as a High School Graduation Requirement

Such an anomaly occurred with the vote on House Bill 264, introduced during the 2024 Regular Session by Representative Jason Hughes (D 1/10). According to the bill it would add computer science as a high school graduation requirement and require teacher preparation programs to include computer science education. Simple enough!

On March 27, 2024, the bill was discussed in the House Education Committee. Representative Beryl Amedee (R 9/10) was the first to ask about the bill inquiring as to whether it would result in a net increase in credits required of students to graduate. The simple answer was no! Amedee was followed by Representative Josh Carlson (R 9/10).

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Carlson, a tech guru by trade, asked how many schools were offering such courses on instruction at present. After some delay and without receiving an answer Carlson reemphasized the question. Carlson was informed that only 35% of Louisiana schools offered the course during the 2022 – 2023 school year. Rep Josh Carlson then raised concerns over the resources of schools and specifically the need for computer labs to achieve the bill’s objectives.

Representative Barbara Freiberg (RINO 2/10) engaged in the conversation by asking very legitimate questions. One included whether this bill is something that would be better left to the purview of the Department of Education or the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). In response, Freiberg was told that since it affected TOPS eligibility it was a matter that required legislative oversight.

HB264 Advances out of committee

Other legislators asking relevant questions in Committee were Representatives Kathy Edmonston (R 9/10); Michael Melerine (R 7/10); Rashid Young (D 5/10) and Chuck Owen (R 9/10). Only one red card was lodged in opposition by a member of the St. Charles Parish School System, but they did not wish to speak.

A representative from BESE spoke in committee but did not do so in favor or opposition to the bill. Likewise, Michael Faulk with the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents did not voice opposition or support of the bill. However, he did raise some valid concerns. Faulk indicated that the bill would likely impact rural areas. Those concerns included resources, internet connectivity, and training of staff. The bill easily made it out of committee.

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Zero debate on the house floor

When the bill arrived on the House Floor on April 4, 2024, it was not the subject of any debate. Within minutes the bill was passed overwhelmingly by the Louisiana House of Representatives. 102 Yeas, 1 Nay, and 2 reported absent. Clearly, that legislator made a mistake when pressing his “nay” button. After all, there is no way that sort of uninformed rube could be elected to the legislature. Or could that vote have been cast by some sort of dinosaur who just doesn’t use or appreciate what computer technology has done to advance our society? As it turns out all of those assumptions would be wrong.

Tehmi Chassion stands alone

The sole legislator voting in opposition to the bill was Tehmi Chassion (D 6/10). Chassion is far from being considered an uninformed rube or a dinosaur. The Democrat legislator from Lafayette served on the Lafayette Parish School Board for a decade (2011 – 2023). For the most part, Chassion’s service on the School Board went unnoticed, which isn’t necessarily bad.

There was that one time Chassion spoke about how the School Board could play a role in “economic development,” something clearly outside the scope of their mission. But Chassion jokingly followed up by stating he needed a Chili’s closer to home because he loved their baby back ribs. Just by nature of his service on the School Board did Chassion recognize an issue that 102 legislators overlooked? We present that maybe he did… and that issue deals with unfunded mandates. It is also important to note that Chassion could have simply blended in with the rest of the members of the House by not drawing any attention to himself. Instead, he made a decision based on his convictions and stood alone.

Unfunded mandates

If this bill were to become law in its present form, it would place additional obligations on local schools and school districts. Carlson brought up the cost of establishing the necessary computer labs. He was told that most schools already have the equipment thanks to one-time money handed out by Uncle Sam during COVID. Great! But do you really think that equipment will last forever?

Infrastructure concerns were also raised, specifically for rural areas which lack sufficient broadband capabilities. How are those issues going to be addressed for the school district? Is the school district responsible for engaging in public works projects to improve these deficiencies to meet this unfunded mandate? Then there is the issue of teaching the teachers. According to testimony in the committee, $5 million in funding was allocated by the legislature last session specific to training. Will this be a regular funding mechanism that can be relied on? After all, how long do we expect the teachers who were trained with these funds to stick around?

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

According to the bill’s author, Representative Jason Hughes, the legislature received tremendous support from businesses and organizations citing a need to develop a workforce. It is often amusing to think of how the government believes it can resolve issues in markets, whether it be the financial market, health care market, or the labor market. It seems reasonable that if there was a big enough demand for this form of education, the free market would be coming to Louisiana to fill the void. But they aren’t!

The bottom line is that by making this curriculum mandatory for every Louisiana student you are not really preparing them to fill jobs that pay six figures. This elective course will not make students any more attractive to employers for anything other than an entry-level position, which will not likely be high-paying. As Hughes probably unintentionally pointed out in the committee, you are essentially training students to use a kiosk to order fast food.

The option of being able to “test out” was raised by both Freiburg and Carlson, both of whom recognize that many students may already possess the knowledge that the course would be intended to provide them. Most grandparents recognize this every time they have trouble operating their iPhones. They simply hand it off to their grade school grandchildren to resolve! Also, by making this a mandatory course without increasing the number of Carnegie credit hours required for graduation, students will now have to sacrifice other courses that may be more in line with the field of interest they intend to pursue post-graduation.


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