Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Advocate editorial gets its facts wrong

In an otherwise spot-on piece, The Advocate's editorial board leaped over the false equivalency cliff that is the bane of modern journalism. The substance of the editorial tracks a flaw in the logic of Gov. Jindal's conservative allies that goes something like this:

1. Conservatives generally favor literal, originalist readings of the constitution.

2. Gov. Jindal crafted a privatization scheme that diverts funds dedicated to the Minimum Foundation Program to a hodgepodge of nonpublic schools, private course providers, online schools and others.

3. A state court ruled that the Louisiana Constitution specifically reserves MFP funds for public schools.

4. Conservatives now express outrage that a district court judge read the constitution, applied it literally to Gov. Jindal's law, and found the law lacking. The complaint of Jindal's allies is that the judge did not bend the constitution to fit their goals.

The Advocate's editorial correctly points out that the MFP is "not just another pot of money. And the constitutional issues raised deserve more than dismissal, particularly from quarters where respect for strict construction generally rules."

But after spanking Jindal and company, The Advocate felt it necessary to admonish the teacher union that brought the case to court in the first place, saying that union leaders "are also guilty of ignoring the legal issues raised by the wording of the state constitution."

That's the false equivalency: if Jindal is wrong, the union must be found in the wrong as well. The editorial board has now criticized both sides, and can safely claim that it is impartial.

Except in this case, it is more than the equivalency that is false. The  Advocate has its facts wrong, too.
It was the Louisiana Federation of Teachers that brought the case to court in the first place. Our argument was that Jindal's scheme improperly and unconstitutionally diverted dedicated funds to nonpublic education. That is more than adequately demonstrated here, here, and here.

We are at a loss to understand what the editorial board meant when it inserted the sentence about union leaders "ignoring the legal issues raised by the wording of the state constitution." We were very aware of those issues when we filed the suit.

This union was of the opinion that Jindal's agenda included very bad policies. We had hoped that those policy issues would be the subjects of debate in the legislature, and that we would have opportunities to present better options.

But the methods chosen by the governor to steamroll his agenda through the legislature made it impossible to debate the policies on their merits. In adopting those methods, the governor chose to ignore the constitution.

We can hope that once constitutional issues are finally resolved, the legislature will revisit those policies in a full, robust and open debate.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Letter: A lump of coal from Jindal

Ponchatoula High School teacher and LFT member Kevin Crovetto penned this letter to the editor of the Hammond Daily Star.

Dear Editor:

In reference to the recent violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School by a mentally deranged assailant, it should be noted that our own Gov. Bobby Jindal has officially turned his back on the mentally ill in Louisiana by providing over 300 pink slips to the workers at Southeast Mental Hospital who cared for both young and old mental patients.

Of course, Bobby says that they can apply for jobs with the private companies who will attempt to provide some of the services, and of course, those jobs will be for lower pay with little or no benefits.

Bobby Jindal has given Louisiana citizens the proverbial lump of coal this year, while his legislators nod and grin because most refuse to upset “Bobby the Grinch.”

This is the same Legislature that passed a new, all-inclusive law to deter bullying in schools; yet, they allow themselves to be bullied by Jindal’s political schemes.

Jindal’s educational “water-boy,” State Superintendent John White, is in charge of the new state initiative called “Louisiana Believes,” which is supposed to promote the educational programs that the legislature was bullied into voting for called Acts 1 and 2.

John White wants us to buy into “Louisiana Believes,” but, like his boss, Bobby, White does not really believe in Louisiana. He is now a finalist for a $300,000-a-year superintendent job for an out-of-state school district in a major city.

White is following his boss in looking for the next best thing for his personal gain, while “giving hell” to the rest of us about what we need to do to be better.

If Jindal and White want better results, it is only because they want better perceptions of their own success to gratify their own financial, political and personal success.

As native Louisianians, we DO believe in Louisiana. That is why we DO NOT believe in the selfish actions of Bobby Jindal and John White. It is now time to prepare a real Christmas present for Mr. Jindal and send it via our legislators.

We should expect our legislators to represent our communities and not other people’s personal political agendas for selfish gain. This gift also comes with a price tag to the deliverer, the Legislature, which is that if this message does not get through to the governor, we as Louisiana citizens believe that our next gift to you will be a political lump of coal.

Many citizens continue to encourage me to speak up and write about the injustices we are facing. Although I am proud to stand up for the people of this state, I do not write to entertain but to implore, inspire, and encourage you to speak up.

Contact your local legislators. Take a stand with me.

— Kevin B. Crovetto, Ponchatoula

Friday, December 14, 2012

The real shame in Jindal's Washington speech

Governor Bobby Jindal says the lawsuit filed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and others to challenge the constitutionality of his voucher scheme is “shameful.” But what’s really a shame is the way our governor disdained the rule of law and readily available research in his crusade to privatize public education.

Jindal spoke on Tuesday at a Washington, D.C. meeting of the right-wing Brookings Institution, which convened that day to praise the state’s Recovery School District for becoming what Brookings claims is the best in the nation in terms of school choice.

That claim is debatable: RSD has some of the lowest achievement scores in the state, many parents complain that they can’t enroll their children in New Orleans’ high-achieving charter schools, and the district’s record with children with exceptionalities is spotty.

Jindal did not limit his remarks to the RSD, however. As Times-Picayune Washington correspondent Bruce Alpert reports here, the governor took advantage of the national forum to defend his voucher plan and bash teacher unions for pointing out its legal flaws.

That the governor would change the subject from choice in the RSD to his vision of a nationwide plan to pay for private and religious school tuition says much more about Jindal’s national ambitions than about his concern for schools in Louisiana.

Jindal said the union “is working hard every day to make sure that you do not ever get the opportunity to get your child out of that failing school…”

In the reality based world, as LFT President Steve Monaghan pointed out, the union’s objective in filing our lawsuit was to uphold the Constitution of the State of Louisiana. It was in fact a conservative Republican judge who ruled on November 30 that the governor’s voucher plan violates a section of the constitution that reserves public school funds for public schools.

A pilot plan for vouchers, enacted in 2008 and funded separately through the state general fund, was never the subject of a constitutional challenge, although the LFT did oppose it as a matter of flawed policy.

If Gov. Jindal wants to blame someone for the outcome of the lawsuit, he need only consult a mirror.

The governor’s Washington speech reinforced a few things that we already know about his agenda.

First, that his political goals in life lie far outside the boundaries of our state. “Do not lay your head on the pillow at night believing that America [not just Louisiana] provides equal opportunity in education. We do not," he told the Brookings crowd.

Second, that Jindal believes the privatization of education is the only way to guarantee all children a high-quality education. On Tuesday, that required a delicate dance in which the governor had to accept Brookings’ praise of the state’s public school choice options while at the same time condemning public education as a failure.

His almost religious faith in the efficacy of private education also is belied by research that shows voucher schools to have produced results about the same or even lower than their public counterparts.

Third, that Jindal believes teacher unions are the educational equivalent of the Antichrist. He does not want to hear that we, too, have ideas about school reform. Ours are research-based, educationally sound and proven to work. He does not want to believe that we, too, love children. He does not want to believe that we want schools to succeed.

The problem with beliefs that are not grounded in reality is that they lead the believer into error, and that is the territory in which Gov. Jindal now finds himself.

At one point in his speech, the governor called on teachers to “peel the scales off their eyes.” What he does not seem to realize is that the scales have, indeed, fallen from teachers’ eyes. And when they look at Gov. Jindal, they do not like what they see.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monaghan to whiners: It's time for some introspection

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan has responded to whiners in the administration who blame the LFT and others for a judicial ruling against the way Gov. Bobby Jindal chose to fund his voucher scheme.

In a letter to The Advocate, Monaghan asks if the conservative Republican judge who ruled against the Jindal administration is party to a conspiracy "to get in the way of student achievement," a theory fabricated by Superintendent of Education John White.

And while the governor chooses to describe the ruling as "wrongheaded" and "a travesty," Monaghan wants to know if Jindal has access to a mirror.

"Now, isn’t it time for a bit of introspection and reflection on the part of those charged with driving the train?" Monaghan writes. "Tagging Judge Kelley as 'wrong-headed' and the LFT as a 'hindrance' strongly suggests that no responsibility has been taken and nothing has been learned."

Monaghan's letter has a worthy companion on today's editorial page, with former Jefferson Parish School Board Member Terry Verigan weighing in on White's history of "converting public schools into private enterprise charter schools."

Verigan says of White, "During his brief 100-day tenure as deputy chancellor of the New York City Schools, he managed to alienate parents and teachers alike with his aggressive and thoughtless campaign to 'reform' the schools."

"The fact that he was never a school principal and was barely a classroom teacher contribute to his misdirected assault on public education in our state," writes Verigan. "John White came to Louisiana unprepared and having a personal agenda that had little to do with improving public schools. That Bobby Jindal placed him in this critical role says much about the governor’s superficial interest in public service and the welfare of Louisiana’s children."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

WAFB-TV covers voucher ruling

Watch Baton Rouge's WAFB-TV coverage of Judge Tim Kelley's decision that Gov. Bobby Jindal's so-called "choice" act unconstitutionally funds non-public education.
WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Who is really hindering student achievement?

So Superintendent of Education John White tells Advocate reporter Will Sentell that teacher unions, including the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, are hindering student progress. That’s because we opposed in court – successfully thus far – Governor Jindal’s scheme to siphon public education funds away from public schools and into the pockets of private schools, religious schools and the vampire capitalists who can’t wait to get their fangs into the state’s cash artery.

Never mind that the governor’s plan was patently, obviously unconstitutional, or that it was ramrodded through the legislature with all the subtlety of a Maoist Great Leap Forward, or that most lawmakers didn’t have the slightest idea what they were being directed to approve.
Progress, according to Superintendent White, is being hindered because we are the ones who pointed out the emperor’s lack of clothes.

In truth, the superintendent’s tantrum simply mirrors the frustration of a governor who has been told by a state court that he must play by the rules. And that tends to bridle the governor’s political ambitions, which are propelling his education agenda much more forcefully than a passion to improve student achievement.

The fact is that the governor’s privatization schemes are a much greater threat to student achievement than actions by teacher unions. Paying for students to attend schools that abhor science will not produce the next Einstein. Diverting school funds to online course providers will not create the educated work force that our future demands.

To find a real hindrance to student achievement, look to Governor Jindal’s budget priorities. It was he who slashed over $76 million from after school tutorial programs, classroom technology, reading and math initiatives and stipends for nationally certified teachers. 

It was Gov. Jindal who rejected, on purely political grounds, a $60 million federal grant for pre-kindergarten education.

The difference between these programs and Gov. Jindal’s schemes is that they are all proven to enhance student achievement. Another distinction is that they all have the solid support of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers – the union that Supt. White says is hindering student achievement.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Evaluation law to be tested in court

LFT challenge to Act 1 will be heard December 17

One of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s most controversial education initiatives will be tested in court on December 17, when the Louisiana Federation of Teachers asks a Baton Rouge judge to toss out Act 1 of the 2012 legislature.

The law links virtually every aspect of a teacher’s professional life to a new evaluation system. In a lawsuit filed last June, the Federation charged that Act 1 violates the state constitution.

According to LFT President Steve Monaghan, Act 1 bundles what should have been a number of separate bills into one instrument. By rushing the bill through the legislature in the opening days of the last session, Monaghan said, Gov. Jindal treated the constitution “like little more than a list of inconvenient suggestions.”

In a motion for summary judgment to be heard in Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District Court, LFT is asking that the new law be tossed because it conflicts with Article 3 Section 15(A) of the state constitution, which clearly states that bills “shall be confined to one object.”

Act 1 radically changes at least eight different existing laws “which have no reasonable relationship with, nor natural connection to, each other…” according to the LFT’s plea.

“By cramming so many objectives into the bill, public comment and debate were stifled,” Monaghan said. “Legislators were given little information about the bill, and appeared intimidated into passing it without adequate debate and oversight.”

Some of the LFT’s specific challenges to Act 1’s bundled objectives, each of which should have been a separate bill, include:
  • It changes the contractual relationship between local school boards and their superintendents.
  • It strips the authority to hire and fire teachers from school boards and gives it to superintendents.
  • It gives superintendents sole authority to determine reduction in force policies.
  • It creates a new section of law regarding how teacher salaries will be determined.
  • It changes due process rights that teachers have under law.
The Federation filed the lawsuit on June 7, at the same time as a suit challenging Act 2, the governor’s “choice” or school voucher bill.

Other organizations, including the Louisiana School Boards Association and the Louisiana Association of Educators, later joined the Federation’s suit challenging the “choice” act. It is slated to go to trial on November 28.

LFT remains the sole organization with a lawsuit pending against Act 1.

Click here to read the LFT plea for summary judgment.
Click here for the original reports about the Federation's lawsuits.
Click here for recent news about the Act 2 lawsuit.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Where do they find these jewels?

First there was the spin person hired out of Florida to help the State Department of Education manage communications (that’s PR-speak for obfuscating the disaster that our education policy has become). Without having to even move to Louisiana, Dierdre Finn, a veteran of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s political machine, has joined the ranks of high-paid DOE apparatchiks.

Then we discovered that the department’s new director in charge of teacher evaluation – which now governs every aspect of a teacher’s career, from tenure to compensation to termination – is Molly Horstman, a 27-year old, non-certified, two-year veteran teacher who did not pass PRAXIS.

Third in this sad clown car of questionable employment decisions is DOE’s new promoter of “course choice” options, motivational speaker Lefty Lefkowith. His chief claim to fame, aside from association with the aforementioned Gov. Bush, seems to have been huckstering for schemes to deregulate energy and manipulate water rights in Florida.

Now into the center ring stumbles newly appointed Deputy Superintendent for District Support Mike Rounds, who will be paid $170,000 per year (hat tip to Tom Aswell for uncovering the story).

Rounds left his last position as chief operating officer for the Kansas City school system under somewhat of a cloud. Aswell’s post describes the sleazy dealings that were uncovered by investigative reporters in KC.

Rounds and Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White have something in common. Both “earned” their superintendent’s credentials by attending the Broad Academy.

The Academy's Web site claims that it takes "executives who have experience successfully leading large organizations and a passion for public service" and, after six weekends of training over a 10-month period, "places them in urban school districts to dramatically improve the quality of education for America’s students."

White taught for two years as a Teach for America volunteer, then went to work as executive director of Teach for America in Chicago. From there, he served a stint as deputy chancellor for New York City schools, where his passion was in closing down public schools and converting them to charters. That wealth of experience bought him passage to Louisiana, where he briefly headed the Recovery School District before, at age 35, he was picked by Gov. Bobby Jindal to replace Paul Pastorek as superintendent.

There is an emerging trend in Louisiana’s education bureaucracy: Minimal professional credentials, little or no experience as an educator, allegiance to an ideology of privatization, disdain for professionals who have chosen education as their life’s calling. And salaries higher than any classroom teacher dare dream of ever earning.

Where do they find these jewels?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Panel thwarts Jindal's privatization scheme

Thanks in part to the thousands of signatures gathered by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, a legislative committee refused on Thursday to approve the privatization of health care services provided by the State Office of Group Benefits.

At the end of a four-hour meeting, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s staff realized that they did not have enough support on the Legislative Joint Committee on the Budget to approve selling OGB’s Preferred Provider Network to Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Louisiana.

Acting on behalf of the governor, Commissioner of Administration Kristi Nichols asked the committee, which comprises the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees, to pull the item from its agenda.

LFT Legislative Director Mary-Patricia Wray has won well-deserved credit for her testimony opposing privatization of the health plan, which serves some 60,000 current and retired public employees. Included in that number are teachers and school employees in a number of school systems.

After presenting the committee with nearly 4,500 signed petitions opposing the sale, Wray told the committee, “Policy makers keep finding more and more creative ways and more and more sorry excuses to support corporate tax avoidance over public good, privatizing over restoration and feel-good initiatives over real solutions for our very, very valuable public institutions.”

Nichols pulled the item from the agenda following a contentious hearing that revealed a deep lack of trust in the Jindal administration’s motives for privatizing OGB’s PPO. While she cited a study claiming that selling the PPO could save money for local school systems, several lawmakers said they can see no benefit to privatizing the office.

Most of the savings would come from the firing of some 177 employees who handle claims for the office. Opponents feared that the state workers might be replaced by telephone call centers anywhere in the world.

Testimony has shown that the Office of Group Benefits, which has amassed a $500 million surplus that is available to pay claims, spends only about three percent of its income on management costs. The industry average for management costs ranges from 10 to 15 percent, experts say.

The governor is not expected to give up n his plan to privatize the insurance plan. In a prepared statement, Nichols said the issue will come before the committee again.

“We asked to come back to the committee because there were questions about school board savings and some confusion about voting procedure. We feel confident about the support for the measure,” her statement said.

If you have not yet signed the LFT petition opposing privatization of the health plan, please click here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hypocrisy in high places

The State Department of Education raises issues of hypocrisy in this story by Advocate reporter Will Sentell, in which vows are made to ensure that every pre-kindergarten school that takes public tuition money will be held to rigorous standards.

“Every program that takes public dollars will be held to a common standard,” Superintendent of Education White told the reporter.

Thanks to the superintendent’s deep concern for the well-being of our state’s smallest learners, schools that provide pre-K instruction will all be assigned letter grades similar to the labels pasted onto public elementary and secondary schools.

Standards and letter grades are important, Supt. White indicated, as parents make choices about their children’s education.

“There are a lot of different choices out there, but children and their families do not have equal access and quality varies widely,” White told the reporter.

But what’s good for the little-bitties apparently does not work for their K-12 siblings, according to Supt. White and his colleagues on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being diverted away from public schools to pay tuition in private and religious schools and for “course providers” that come nowhere close to the standards demanded of public schools.

Last week, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers forced BESE to hold a hearing to accept suggestions for improvements to the totally inadequate standards promulgated for voucher schools last July.

The accountability standards touted by Supt. White do not impose letter grades on voucher schools, do not require them to hold a common curriculum, do not require their teachers to have even the most basic certification, and do not adequately oversee their stewardship of public funds.

Even those vague standards can be waived by Supt. White – and there are no guidelines governing his ability to waiver.

Supt. White did not even bother to attend the hearing. BESE’s executive director limited most of those who appeared to a two minute presentation. Supt. White’s allies at the hearing cavalierly dismissed concerns about the accountability of voucher schools.

LFT President Steve Monaghan said the hearing “sent a very clear signal: the mission of the department of education is to champion vouchers and privatization by any means necessary, and any rules that get in the way of that agenda will not be tolerated.”

Absolute common standards for all pre-K programs that take state dollars. Not so much for the private and religious schools that Supt. White and Gov. Bobby Jindal seem to have come to favor over public education. That is hypocrisy in the highest places.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Louisiana’s most improved public school shuts its doors

Louisiana’s perfect storm - an ill-conceived school reform experiment coupled with drastic budget reductions - has claimed another victim. The most improved public school in the state has been shuttered by the East Baton Rouge Parish school Board.

As reported here by Charles Lussiere of The Advocate, EBR Lab Academy was closed because the state seized control of the facility in which it was housed, and the school board’s budget could not bear the cost of a school that gave intensive assistance to kids who needed it.

As Lussiere writes, “EBR Lab shared a campus with Istrouma High and both were run by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, but the demise of those two schools was set in motion by RSD.”

A struggling Istrouma High School was taken over by the Recovery School District. EBR Lab could not remain at Istrouma, which was no longer part of the Baton Rouge school system, and board members saw a chance to save $1 million by simply closing the successful experimental school. Like most other school districts, Baton Rouge is suffering because of Governor Bobby Jindal’s refusal to raise education spending along with the cost of inflation.

And so more than 200 kids who were achieving their goals have been scattered, and their faculty has moved on to other jobs in other schools, and a successful public school is gone.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nessie Vs. Darwin on LPB

Watch reporter Sue Lincoln's report about religious schools that want state education funds, but teach that dinosaurs roam the earth today and the planet is only 6,000 years old.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

John White and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

It’s only Tuesday, and already this week is not going very well for Superintendent of Education John White and the radical education agenda espoused by his patron, Governor Bobby Jindal.

On Sunday, Advocate columnist Mark Ballard stripped the bark off the governor’s contention that the voucher scheme he and Supt. White have foisted on the public does not consume money approved by taxpayers for their local school systems.

The governor and his attorneys have sworn that not one penny of local tax proceeds will leave the district because of vouchers. Ballard discovered proof that vouchers will, indeed cost local school systems money. It was found in legislative testimony provided by…John White.

That happened on the Day of Rest, and much worse was still to come.

On Monday, we learned that Superintendent White and his colleagues on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have been summoned to New Orleans by a federal judge, who wants them to explain why he should not issue an injunction against the voucher program in Tangipahoa Parish.

The judge is responsible for overseeing a desegregation order in the parish. There is reason to believe that vouchers will disrupt the delicate balance orchestrated by the court, and that would be frowned upon by the federal judiciary.

That was local stuff. Later on Monday evening a story broke in The Nation, exposing Supt. White, Gov. Jindal and many of their allies to national media attention that they’d much rather avoid, with a headline screaming “Why Do Some of America's Wealthiest Individuals Have Fingers in Louisiana's Education System?”

The story by reporter Matthew Cunningham-Cook documented the purchase of BESE by “a coterie of extremely wealthy billionaires” who pumped more money into last fall’s state school board election than had ever been spent before.

Nearly $2.4 million was spent to elect a BESE majority whose very first order of business was to appoint John White as superintendent of education.

White, whose appointment had been blocked by the previous board, set about doing the work he had apparently been brought into the state to accomplish: making the billions spent on our schools vulnerable to what the magazine called “privatization on a scale incomparable to anywhere else in the nation…”

As Cunningham-Cook put it, “the state spends $8.7 billion dollars annually on education, and some exceedingly powerful private business interests want a piece of it.”

Back in Louisiana, Supt. White found himself under fire from a brace of state senators who believe he lied during his confirmation hearing last spring, and want to investigate the possible perjury.

According to Gannett reporter Barbara Leader, Sen. Bob Kostelka of Monroe and Sen. Ed Murray of New Orleans want the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee to ask the superintendent about his testimony regarding the genesis of the voucher program.

Apparently, Supt. White “told members that a letter detailing the second phase of the approval process had been ‘planned for some time and meant to highlight what comes next,’ but emails obtained recently by The News-Star show a different story.”

In a separate story, Leader laid out a minute-by-minute scenario in which a panicky John White attempted to control the damage caused by newspaper reports that described the shoddy process employed to approve private and religious schools receiving vouchers.

(That process had led to approval of schools that didn’t have enough classrooms or teachers, and that used TV screens and DVDs to instruct students.)

And Supt. White’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week isn’t over yet.

On Thursday, BESE will be required under state law to hold a hearing at which the public can comment on the proposed rules that Supt. White came up with to regulate the voucher program.

When those rules were introduced in July, opponents argued that they would set a much lower standard of accountability for voucher schools than for traditional public schools.

But those opponents, including the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, were only allowed three minutes to make their case and to suggest improvements. BESE then voted overwhelmingly to grant preliminary approval to the new rules.

After a careful reading of the state’s Administrative Procedures Act, LFT invoked a section requiring bodies like BESE, if requested, to hold public hearings on new rules.

And so at 2:00 P.M. on Thursday, the board will convene to hear what LFT and others have to say about the inadequate rules Supt. White intends to apply to the multimillion dollar voucher program.

Even at the end of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week, problems still loom for Supt. White, Gov. Jindal and their radical education schemes. A trial date has been set for November 28 to determine the constitutionality of the voucher program. And soon another trial date will hear LFT’s lawsuit challenging the legality of the governor’s other major education initiative. That one bases virtually every major decision of a teacher’s professional life – from hiring to tenure to salaries to termination – on the outcome of an evaluation system that is universally reviled by educators.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Committee delays debate of OGB sale

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee was slated to discuss Gov. Jindal’s plan to sell an Office of Group Benefits health insurance plan to a private company Thursday, but cancelled the meeting at the last minute.

While spokesmen for the governor’s office said that lawmakers simply needed more time to review the proposed sale of OGB’s preferred provider organization, one lawmaker, Rep. Katrina Jackson of Monroe, said the governor lacked enough votes on the committee to approve the sale.

Response to the governor’s plan has been overwhelmingly negative – more than 4,300 people have signed a Louisiana Federation of Teachers’ petition opposing privatization (Click here if you haven’t already signed the petition!).

OGB manages the health insurance of some 60,000 current and retired public employees, including teachers and school employees in a number of school systems. It is one of the best-run and scandal-free operations in state government. In fact, it has built up a surplus of some $500 million over the past few years.

The governor claims that privatizing the office would save the state money. But according to reports, the OGB currently spends only about three percent of its income on management costs. The same costs for a private company could be in the 10% to 15% range.

Privatizing the office would probably not save money for the state, but it would eliminate the jobs of 177 public servants, putting even more Louisiana citizens in the unemployment line.

Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon wrote this story about the meeting cancellation.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Team Jindal's artful dodge on voucher funding

Apparently stung by a series of public meetings in St. Tammany Parish, during which school board members laid out the damage that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education agenda is causing to public schools, the governor “launched an offensive last week to say local tax dollars are not actually being used to help pay for some students to go to private schools,” according to Advocate columnist Mark Ballard.

The governor’s attorney told Ballard that “No local funds, not one dime of property ad valorem taxes or of property taxes or of any millages, any taxes, can be traced” to a student attending a private or religious school because of Jindal’s voucher scheme.

That artfully worded dodge conceals the fact that the state funds the vouchers in part by holding back money that would otherwise be sent to local school systems. As Ballard writes, “The state writes a check to the private schools and discounts local school districts the same amount.”

That amount includes money approved by local taxpayers for teacher salaries, school construction or other local education needs.

Writes Ballard, “In an analysis written after Act 2, which authorizes the voucher program, had been passed by both chambers, the Legislative Fiscal Office stated: ‘Local school districts will be responsible for a portion of the cost of the Student Scholarship Program.’”

In St. Tammany, school board members report that Jindal’s voucher scheme is costing one of the state’s premier school systems $2.1 million, despite promises from lawmakers that the district would be unscathed by the voucher program.

Statewide, according to Ballard’s column, the voucher program will cost a total of about $25 million. Of that, the state will pay about $12 million, and local taxpayers will pony up about $13 million.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In a VAN down by the RIVER

In a classic Saturday Night Live sketch, comic Chris Farley portrayed a failed motivational speaker who now plies his trade from a van down by the river.

Superintendent of Education John White may have found Farley’s equal in a motivational speaker hired by the department to shill for the Course Choice Program.

“Lefty” Lefkowith is paid $145,000 a year to promote the governor’s “course choice” program, as seen in this YouTube video. Thanks to a public records request by blogger Tom Aswell, we know that Lefkowith’s title at the department is “Director of the Office of Portfolio,” although he claims to be Deputy Superintendent.

Since last July, Lefkowith has been, in the words of a Department of Education spokesperson, “effectively implementing a number of large, complex programs and activities aimed at benefiting Louisiana school children.”
In plain English, he was hired to make it easier for corporations and entrepreneurs to raid the public education budget and siphon funds away from our schools. He apparently has no education credentials, but “has worked with private sector companies and government agencies across the nation to harness the talent of professionals in diverse industries and develop creative solutions to improve results.”

In Superintendent White’s world, an academic background, appropriate credentials and experience as an educator are all disqualifying criteria for high-salary positions. Just ask the 27-year old director of teacher evaluation, who does not have a teaching certificate.

The Department of Education’s swank Claiborne Building is definitely not a van, but it is down by the river. That’s good enough for the superintendent.

UPDATE: Tom Aswell, Louisiana’s indispensable investigative journalist, lifted up a rock and found the creepy-crawly essence of “Lefty” Lefkowith in this blog entry. Not just a carnival barker for privatization, it seems that Lefty has an unsavory past “with strong connections to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the infamous Enron Corp.” and schemes to deregulate energy and manipulate water rights in the Sunshine State.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

John White's sense of irony

Irony, noun: Expression in which the intended meaning of the words is the opposite of their usual sense.

Has Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White developed a sense of irony? Judging from news and editorial reports of the last few days, the imposing stone Claiborne Building, which houses White’s department, has become a Temple of the Ironic.

On one hand, White explained to Shreveport Times reporter Mary Nash-Wood that his department requires the services of a new public relations person because “The No. 1 thing people ask for is more communication. We’re not about just hoping information gets to parents and teachers. We’re trying to be proactive in working to meet those parents, teachers and students wherever they are.”

So desperate is the need that White reached all the way to Tallahassee, Florida to hire one Deirdre Finn at the sum of $12,000 per month for four months (with a three-year option) to manage communications for his office.

The need is not so critical that Ms. Finn’s presence is required in Baton Rouge full-time, however: “she divides her duties between Baton Rouge and Tallahassee.”

Here’s where the ironic part comes in. At the same time that White so desperately needs a Floridian to manage communications in Louisiana, his department is being sued for its refusal to communicate important information to the news media.

On several occasions, White promised to give up records involving the way private and religious schools were chosen to participate in the new state voucher program. He has reneged on that promise, and now refuses to explain the voucher process to the news media and the tax-paying public.

White’s refusal raised the ire of the Baton Rouge Advocate, which opined in an editorial, “If the Department of Education is acting in the best interest of the public in implementing the voucher program, then why does White feel the need to hide documents relating to the program from public view?”

The Lake Charles American Press is also incensed: “But because taxpayers are footing the bill for this program — the state is paying up to almost $9,000 per student — the public has a right to know the details of how this program has evolved and is evolving.”

It’s not that White is unable to communicate the information because he lacks a staff member. He just doesn’t want to.

Which raises the question: Is Deidre Finn being paid $12,000 per month to really give out information, or is it to put an attractive spin on White’s refusal to communicate?

Maybe irony is not the right word to use here.

Cynical, adjective: Denying the sincerity of people’s motives and actions.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Flawed system shouldn’t dictate teacher salaries

Dependant on Value Added Model, even 1% is too much, LFT says

(Baton Rouge – October 8, 2010) With a growing number of reports illustrating the chaos fomented by a new teacher evaluation system, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan asks school boards to limit the damage by minimizing the effect that the system has on teacher compensation.

Under Act 1 of 2012, school boards must design new teacher salary schedules by January 1, and have them in place by the 2013-14 school year. The law requires teacher effectiveness as measured by these evaluations to determine up to 50% of teacher compensation. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers has challenged the constitutionality of the new law.

“This is insane,” said Monaghan. “A broken system, a flawed model, will be used to determine the intrinsic value of teachers and their economic worth.

“We urge school boards to protect their teachers from unnecessary damage by minimizing the effect that the flawed system will have on teacher compensation,” Monaghan said. “We understand that the law requires a percentage; we’re saying make it one percent or less, until this is fixed.”

Recently, a major newspaper called Governor Jindal’s evaluation scheme unfair and concluded that it “borders on immoral.” Just last week, one of the governor’s chief allies and a strong supporter of Act 1 called the evaluation scheme “ridiculous.”

“We are learning that many of the state’s finest teachers will be labeled ‘ineffective’ because of a flawed rating system which squeezes teachers into predetermined results or outcomes,” Monaghan said.

“Evidence from around Louisiana demonstrates that the new evaluation program does not accurately reflect teacher effectiveness,” Monaghan said. “It is an inappropriate instrument on which to base any significant portion of a teacher’s salary.”

To read more of this article, please click here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Evaluation raises GOP lawmaker's ire

They say that it took arch-conservative communist baiter Richard Nixon to finally breech the wall that had separated the United States from China since Mao Zedong’s revolution. Will it now require one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s most loyal allies to bring down the travesty that is the governor’s teacher evaluation scheme?

That conclusion can be drawn from this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell, in which Shreveport Republican Representative Alan Seabaugh calls the new teacher evaluation program “nothing short of ridiculous.”

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers has been calling the governor’s plan ridiculous, and worse, since it was first enacted two years ago. But the stakes climbed exponentially this year, when Jindal’s Act 1 tied employment decisions ranging from salary to tenure to termination to the evaluation scheme.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers vigorously opposed Act 1 when it was rammed through the legislature. Lawmakers like Seabaugh scoffed at our concerns. The governor and his amen chorus called us “agents of the status quo” and worse.

When LFT stood alone and filed a lawsuit to halt the evaluation system, we were called goons. The once-respected Council for a Better Louisiana called our lawsuit “unfortunate” and said that we are “more interested in taking care of adult issues at the educational expense of students.”

Superintendent of Education John White whined that “the LFT keeps dragging us back to politics and courtrooms.”

But with the law going into effect and its noxious results blooming, the worm is turning.

Around the state, educators are learning that Jindal’s scheme is aimed not at improving education, but at shoehorning teachers into arbitrary categories. His ultimate goal seems to be destroying trust in public education so that the billions spent on our schools can be diverted into the pockets of education entrepreneurs.

In a recent editorial, the Lake Charles American Press termed Jindal’s evaluation scheme unfair and immoral after learning that some of the best teachers in some of the state’s best schools have been labeled “ineffective.”

And now the scales have fallen from Rep. Seabaugh’s eyes. It seems that the top-rated elementary school in the state is in his district, and teachers in that school have been victimized by Jindal’s agenda.

As reporter Sentell writes, “the jobs of some teachers could be in jeopardy because even high-scoring students who show drops from the previous year can result in the teachers being rated as ineffective.”

As Rep. Seabaugh told the reporter, “You literally have the most successful teachers in the state being told that they are highly ineffective.”

Rep. Seabaugh has now written a letter of complaint to education officials around the state. Like Nixon’s visit to China, this could be the start of something big.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A caution to moviegoers: Don’t get trigger happy!

A new motion picture that has been described as an inept, bizarre and deceptive attack on public education, teachers and their unions proposes that parent trigger laws are the cure for what ails our schools.

“Won’t Back Down” has been almost universally panned by critics, but a good movie was never the intent of the right-wing billionaire who financed it – the point is to promote the idea, now codified in Louisiana law, that parents should have the right to take over schools they perceive as failing.

But as this article by Molly Redden in The New Republic reveals, there are a number of problems with parent trigger laws that were not discussed when Gov. Jindal rammed his bogus education “reforms” through the legislature last spring.

Louisiana’s trigger provision, like those in six other states, calls for replacing traditional public schools. Under Act 2 of 2012, the law applies to schools rated “D” or “F” on state report cards. If parents representing a majority of the students attending the school sign a petition, the school will be transferred to the State Recovery School District, which presumably will charter the school.

But as The New Republic’s article point out, a Stanford University/Credo study shows that a vast majority of charter schools “fared worse or no better than their public school counterparts in producing academic gains.”

That same study said that Louisiana’s charter schools performed slightly better than the national average. But – and this is a really, really big but – the study clearly says that Louisiana’s advantage, when the study was conducted, was that our state had few charter schools and the requirements to be chartered were very strict.

Under the Jindal regime, however, limitations on charter schools have been obliterated in the rush to abandon public schools. Expect that small advantage to disappear in the next round of charter school studies.

“Won’t Back Down” was produced by Walden Media, a right-wing propaganda firm funded by the very people who want to privatize and profit from our schools. The movie was described by Variety critic Peter DeBruge as “grossly oversimplifying” education reform. He called it a “disingenuous pot-stirrer (that )plays to audiences’ emotions rather than their intelligence.”

A range of critics describe the “Won’t Back Down” as “divisive,” “manipulative,” “heavy-handed,” “noxious” and “muckraking.” But the most damning verdict against the movie was pronounced by audiences, who have stayed away in droves. It reported the worst box office ever for a movie opening on over 2,500 screens.

Parents should also be very wary of the parent trigger laws lauded by the movie. The New Republic’s Redden ends her article by reporting that California parents who once took advantage of a trigger law “now testify to feeling like they were duped into signing over their children’s school to a charter school corporation, without understanding that there was no alternative option. And that, of course, is the worry attached to Won’t Back Down—more duping, set to the rousing strains of Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Stronger.’”

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Don't let Gov. Jindal sell the Office of Group Benefits!

Don't let Gov. Jindal sell the Office of Group Benefits!

Click here to sign the petition!
Despite an outcry from thousands of public servants, Governor Bobby Jindal seems determined to sell the State Office of Group Benefits to a private company.
OGB manages the health insurance of some 60,000 current and retired public employees, including teachers and school employees in a number of school systems. It is one of the best-run and scandal-free operations in state government. In fact, it has built up a surplus of some $500 million over the past few years.

Selling OGB could mean:
  • Higher premiums
  • Slower response when Louisiana’s teachers, school employees and public servants need health care.
  • Outsourcing 177 state jobs, perhaps to foreign countries
The Attorney General says that Gov. Jindal cannot privatize OGB without approval from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which will meet in October. 
Please click this link to learn more and tell members of the Joint Budget Committee to vote NO when they are asked to approve privatizing the Office of Group Benefits.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Uncertified, inexperienced teacher is state director of teacher evaluations

Hot on the heels of the revelation that the State Department of Education has employed a $12,000 per month spin doctor, another report has surfaced about a questionable hire by Superintendent of Education John White.

This time, focus has landed on the department’s 27-year old director of the new state teacher evaluation program.

According to Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Will Sentell, Molly Horstman spent two years in a New Orleans classroom as a Teach for America volunteer before being drafted into the State Recovery School District in New Orleans as an administrator.

She’s following in the footsteps of several other TFT alums, including the former and current executive director of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. It appears that replacing seasoned DOE veterans with young TFAers has become a hallmark of the Jindal and White administration.

According to some reports, Horstman – who did not teach in Louisiana ling enough to even earn tenure – did not pass the PRAXIS exam, which is required for teachers to earn certification in Louisiana. Her ACT scores were accepted instead.

In Sentell’s article, Horstman admits that she allowed her Louisiana teaching certificate to lapse, saying “My job does not require that I go into the classroom to teach right now.”

In short: the person in charge of the state teacher evaluation program is a 27-year old, non-certified, two-year veteran teacher who did not pass PRAXIS and will earn $77,000 per year.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Romney tells teachers: Just shut up

So now Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney believes that teacher unions should not have a political voice. In an interview with NBC host Brian Williams, Romney said, “I believe that we simply can’t have a setting where the teachers unions are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians…”

Romney apparently believes it is wrong for unions to donate to politicians if there is a chance that the union will ever negotiate with officials they have supported. He called it “an extraordinary conflict of interest.”

The republican nominee has no such qualms about taking donations from the likes of billionaire casino czar Sheldon Adelson, who pledged $100 million to Romney’s cause. In an interview with a reporter, Adelson called his campaign contribution “self defense.”

Adelson is currently the subject of a federal criminal investigation into the activities of his gambling empire.

As Huffington Post contributor Ryan Grimm wrote this week:

The top reason Adelson gave for backing Romney and opposing President Barack Obama is "self defense," as Allen put it, referencing the probe into Las Vegas Sands Corp… Adelson's casino empire, the bulk of which is based in Asia, is being investigated for bribery and money laundering. …In other words, Adelson is spending millions of dollars to curry political favor in the United States, hoping to fend off charges that he spent millions of dollars to curry political favor in Asia.
In candidate Romney’s world, it is perfectly acceptable for his side in an election to take millions from those under criminal investigation. Teachers and school employees who want to have a say in an election, however, must keep their mouths and their wallets shut.

But what Romney considers a conflict of interest, the United States Supreme Court has ruled is freedom of speech. When educators form a union and pool their resources to endorse political candidates, they are simply doing what Americans have a right to do.

What Romney is attempting is to silence the voices of those who may disagree with him.

Teacher unions are not alone in contributing to political campaigns. The Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Business and Industry, the doctors, the lawyers, the drug companies all make contributions that vastly outweigh campaign spending by our teacher union.

Each of those donate in the hope that the candidates they support will win the election and then make decisions favorable to the contributor. It might not be pretty, but it is the way politics has always been conducted in the United States.

Here is a hard fact from last year’s election for the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Our union, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, contributed a total of about $20,000 to all of the BESE candidates we endorsed. Contributions to those candidates from all sources amounted to less than $348,000.

Business and political interests aligned with Gov. Bobby Jindal poured over $2.8 million into the same races. The result is a BESE board solidly aligned with the governor. This BESE board overwhelmingly approves of Jindal’s agenda to privatize public education, to support vouchers for private and religious schools, and to expose teachers to a harsh and unfair new evaluation system.

The truth is that money speaks in American elections, and the loudest voice is often the one that is best funded. To deny that voice to unions is to tape the mouths of teachers and school employees and ensure that our concerns are never heard.

Would we all be better off if there were a fair way to limit the amount of money spent on political campaigns in our country? That is a legitimate discussion to have, but it is not at the heart of Romney’s complaint to Brian Williams.

In the Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot restrict independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. Candidate Romney is attempting to tilt the playing field by removing the “and unions” from that balance.

In short, Romney’s fear is that a political contribution by a teacher union will color a decision by an elected official.

His is the wrong prescription for what ails the American political system.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

BESE member decries reform "trickery"

In a letter sent to newspapers across the state, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education District 8 Member Carolyn Hill writes about her disappointment in the "school reform" agenda being pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White.

After running an election campaign based on reform, Hill writes, she is disappointed in "the deceptive practices that are being used to disparage our traditional schools and educators."

"What is being offered up as reform," she writes, "is nothing more than trickery."

Here is the full text of her letter to the editor, which should be appearing around Louisiana soon:

Dear Editor:

As a member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), I am writing to express my disappointment in the deceptive practices that are being used to disparage our traditional schools and educators.  I ran for the BESE position because I wanted to be an integral part of reforming schools in Louisiana.  My campaign was based on reform.  Shortly after being elected to the state board of education, I realized what is being offered up as reform is nothing more than trickery.  

I am reminded of the biblical story relating to Adam and Eve.  God warned Adam not to eat of the forbidden fruit; yet, Eve manipulated Adam and evil arose from the eating of this fruit.  I use this example to inform my constituents and the public that everything that glistens isn’t gold.  Many so-called reformers are trashing traditional public schools while many parents are facing real discrimination.  

Choice is being sold to many parents as the silver bullet.  However, many parents have reported their concerns and confusion regarding the responses they have received.  Some students are being denied access to schools of their choice.  I want to appeal to parents to exercise caution with their choice options.  The virtual learning opportunities, if not monitored, may have far reaching implications regarding student success. Be wise and proactive in your choice decisions and don’t accept less than was promised.  

I recall growing up and revering the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.  However, as an African American, I am concerned that there is silence regarding the future of our children.  Where are our leaders? Why do we want out of state vendors to come to Louisiana to educate our children?  Where are the standards?  Why do we promote certification in traditional schools and don’t require the same standards for charter schools?   Why are we operating under different standards?  Why does a state board of education and legislature make a distinction between education providers?  Why would any board of education not require certification and testing when education is all about the attainment of standards?  

I did campaign on education reform--a responsible reform-- where there is an equitable playing field. The education reform that exists in Louisiana today consists of irresponsible education policies and laws. Again I am saddened that many have forgotten the struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King and others who have taken a stand for all people.  Are we going to abandon this legacy?  I am also reminded of all the elected officials who were in opposition to the education reform legislation during this past legislative session.  I want to say thank you.  I also say we must not abandon our responsibilities. We must rise to be the voices for our children, parents, and educators. If we don't stand openly and vocally for our children, then it may be said we are as guilty as if we had eaten of the forbidden fruit.

Carolyn Hill
BESE District 8

Friday, September 21, 2012

The legislative branch should assert itself

(Baton Rouge – September 21, 2012) Concerned about the Jindal administration’s apparent "complete disregard" for the legislature and the separation of powers, Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-Thibodaux) this week became the second legislator to ask his colleagues to convene in special session. Senator Karen Carter Petersen (D-New Orleans) had already called for a special session over the Jindal administration’s handling of health care issues in the state.

"For democracy to work, it cannot be a spectator sport," said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan. "We have an obligation to express our understanding and support for a legislative intervention.
While Rep. Richard focused on the billion dollars of cuts ordered by the Jindal administration after the last legislative session ended, Federation President Steve Monaghan said he believes lawmakers should also revisit and address the so called bold education agenda which was steamrolled through the 2011 session.

“Representative Richard’s sentiments are shared by educators, but their concerns are not limited to fiscal matters only,” Monaghan said.

“At the governor’s urging, the legislature rushed through and rubber-stamped two poorly drafted, fatally flawed bills,” said Monaghan. “They have fueled confusion and spawned litigation that could drag on for years. The best course for lawmakers is to reconsider them before public education suffers irreparable harm in our state.”

According to the LFT president, the education agenda that Gov. Jindal pushed through in the first weeks of the session has led to mass confusion in the education community, and has made Louisiana a national laughingstock.

To read more of this article, please click here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

John White doubles down on vouchers

Evidence mounts that Superintendent of Education John White and his liege, Gov. Bobby Jindal, are bent on minimizing public education and advancing the cause of private, religious and for-profit schools.

Their preference is on display in this press release, which crows about how successfully the governor's voucher scheme has started down its path to supplant traditional public schools.

Along with its declaration of favor for privatized education, White's press release takes an eye-poke at St. Tammany, a parish still stinging from Gov. Jindal's decision to close Southeast Louisiana Hospital. What is it about the state's most reliably Republican district that urges the governor to treat it so shabbily?

And to those who say there is no slap at St. Tammany in the press release: Of course there is. In this case, the worst insult is in the praise withheld. They knew what they were doing.

Back to the press release. Perhaps the most interesting part is where White drags up a discredited piece of "research" which he uses to bolster a claim that "enrollment in college increased 24 percent for African-American students who received a scholarship to attend a private school."

Even the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report, a strong editorial supporter of the Jindal agenda, calls bullhockey on that one. Reporter David Jacobs writes that the data cited by White "actually does not support the authors' conclusions."

Writes Jacobs: "The review by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison argues the evidence shows 'school vouchers did not improve college enrollment rates among all students or even among a selected subgroup.' In fact, the Brookings/Harvard report 'convincingly demonstrates that in New York City a private voucher program failed to increase the college enrollment rates of students from low-income families,' the critique says.

There's a reason for White's heavy lean on the bogus report. News about the voucher schools has been almost universally bad for White and Jindal. First came the report from New Orleans that public schools were outperforming voucher schools in Jindal's initial foray into privatization. Then came stories about the state's woefully inadequate vetting of proposed voucher schools. Not to mention the pro-KKK and creationism curricula favored by some of the voucher academies.

As White and Jindal double down on vouchers, they will have to deal with mounting evidence that their scheme is not only unconstitutional (court date rapidly approaching), but that it is educationally unsound and intellectually bankrupt. That means we can expect more glowing - and inaccurate - press releases in the future.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What's criminal in Florida is OK in Louisiana

The company that bills itself as the nation's largest provider of online education services is in trouble in Florida.

According to this article in the Orlando Sentinel, K12 Inc. "uses uncertified teachers in violation of state law and has asked employees to cover up the practice."

The story is of interest to us because K-12 Inc. is one of the course providers interested in siphoning Louisiana's public education funds, courtesy of Gov. Bobby Jindal's scheme to privatize our schools.

In Florida, reporters Trevor Aaronson and John O'Connor say, "K12 officials asked state-certified teachers to sign class rosters that included students they hadn't taught."

The allegations, if true, are very serious and ought to result in stiff fines and perhaps jail sentences for the perpetrators. The misdeeds alleged in the story go far beyond any simple mistake: "In one case, a K12 manager instructed a certified teacher to sign a class roster of more than 100 students...She only recognized seven names on that list."

The perps, in this case, might include K12 founder William Bennett, who served as President Ronald Reagan's education secretary. Since K12 was founded in 2000, the reporters say, K12 has grown into an $864 million company whose stock has doubled in the past year.

One reason for that spectacular growth just might be the violation of Florida's education laws. K12 "can pay uncertified teachers less than certified teachers while collecting the same amount per student from school districts," the reporters say.

The company won't have to worry about breaking certification laws here, because our governor made sure that companies like K12 Inc. don't have to hire certified teachers.

One of the many objectives of  Jindal's Act 2, known as the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, was to remove any certification requirements for teachers in the for-profit schools favored by the governor.

So we know that if K12 Inc. is approved as a "course provider" in Louisiana there won't be any pesky  teacher certification issues to clog up the money funnel.

But will the Florida investigation prove to be a hindrance to K12 Inc.'s approval to provide courses in Louisiana? Thus far, whenever State Superintendent of Education John White is asked questions about that sort of thing, his answer is that such information is protected from a prying public by a "deliberative process exemption" to the state's sunshine laws.

We will certainly have an answer by January, at which time the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will release its list of approved course choice providers.

Irony note:
A favorite high school Latin teacher used to say that certain miscreants had "more Gaul than Caesar conquered." Check out the paid advertisements on this story's Orlando Sentinel Web page. Without a hint of shame, K12 has an ad posted: "Learn From Home At Your Pace With K12 Accredited Online High School."