Fri. Jun 18th, 2021

Louisiana has too many deeply rooted educational problems to count, so the last thing we need is a dysfunctional legislative educational committee.

But we have one in the state House, and that’s why it was only a matter of time before Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, would vacate his seat as chairman of the panel.

One thing that liberals and conservatives should agree on is that unless we improve our schools, Louisiana will always be ranked at the bottom of the lists where we should be at the top, and at the top of the lists where we should be at the bottom.

So the job of running a legislative education committee should go to a unifier, and that’s where Garofalo fell short.

His downfall began with House Bill 564, which aimed to address Republican concerns that faculty in colleges and schools are dominated by liberals, and conservative voices on campus are intimidated into silence.

To the extent students are not hearing both sides of the debate on the critical issues of the day, the responsibility belongs to the people who are running our schools and universities.

There is not really a legislative remedy, as became abundantly clear when Garofalo struggled to explain to colleagues what his bill would do.

He said the measure was aimed at preventing educators from teaching “divisive concepts,” including the idea that Louisiana and the United States are racist or that students should feel guilty about their race.

But of course, teaching about divisive ideas is exactly what educators should do, and if they cannot do that in a fair-minded way, they don’t belong on campus.

In trying to explain how his legislation would work, Garofalo offered that it would be OK to have a classroom discussion about slavery.

“You can talk about everything dealing with slavery. The good. The bad. The ugly.”

But Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, pointed out immediately that “There is no good to slavery, though.”

Garofalo replied, “You are right. I didn’t mean to imply that. And don’t believe that.”

But since that exchange, he has pretty much been toast, and for the past three weeks, he has been only an occasional leader of his committee, leaving it to Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington, vice chairman, to pick up the pieces and try and keep the peace.

Now, Garofalo says he was kicked out as chair by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales.

“I want to be clear. I did not step down voluntarily as chairman,” Garofalo said. “For him to throw me under the bus. … I can’t sit still for that.”

Schexnayder’s office insisted Tuesday morning Garofalo has not “officially” been removed from his post.

What a mess.

House Education has been a critical battleground for education reform issues for years. We have supported many of the most controversial bills in the committee for years, even decades.

Garofalo’s bill was in the first place misconceived, but it also made a key policymaking panel for education into a circus.

The legislative session ends in three weeks and lawmakers have a lot of work to do. We need leaders who can unite the state, and Garofalo missed his chance.