House panel advances bill that keeps BESE at 2 majority-minority districts

Black lawmakers express concern over lack of minority representation

By: - February 4, 2022 4:51 pm

The House and Governmental Affairs meet Friday afternoon. (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

A version of the state school board map with only two majority-minority districts out of eight advanced from a Louisiana House committee Friday afternoon. Lawmakers voted 12-5 to approve the proposal, one of several under consideration during a special redistricting session.

Rep. Polly Thomas, R-Metairie, who authored the draft of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education map, said her version is “superior” to others that lawmakers have submitted because it has the fewest number of parishes and cities split among the eight BESE districts.

The Thomas bill splits 12 parishes and 27 cities across BESE borders, fewer than in maps the NAACP and Fair Districts Louisiana organization have drawn for lawmakers that add a third majority-minority district.

Black lawmakers on the House and Government Affairs Committee asked Thomas if she considered adding a third majority-minority district, given that nearly a third of Louisiana residents are Black.

Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, who is Black, said he doesn’t believe the number of split parishes and municipalities on a map should dictate what constitutes a fair map.

“I’m concerned we’ve placed more of a priority on reducing the number of split parishes and municipalities,” Duplessis said. “We’ve emphasized that over the opportunity to create an additional majority-minority seat, and that is something that I think fundamentally we should be concerned with.”

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BESE member Preston Castille, who represents the 8th District and has advocated for more minority representation in BESE, said maps that split up more parishes and cities aren’t particularly worse for representation. He called maps with more split parishes and municipalities “a great benefit.”

Castille said he shares school systems with other BESE members because of how the BESE maps are currently split, and no school leaders in those systems have ever complained about it.

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“I’ve never had anyone from St. Landry or Lafayette say to me that: ‘I really only wish one only one of you represented us, so that we would have less of a voice and less of an opportunity to be heard,’’ Castille said.

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Castille said Thomas agreed to work with him as her draft moves to a full House vote. 

“We had a very nice conversation, but she did not make any commitments,” Castille said, when asked after the meeting if he’s confident they can work a third majority-minority district into Thomas’ draft.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is a former Louisiana Illuminator reporter. Prior to working with the Illuminator, Canicosa worked for Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon. Canicosa earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.

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