Monday, August 13, 2012

A disturbance in the force?

Just days after Governor Bobby Jindal was rejected as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, the cracks are really starting to show in his signature education reform apparatus. As Darth Vader might say, “There’s a disturbance in the Force.”

That disturbance just might be on display in tomorrow’s meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

There will be background rumblings about the latest embryonic scandals emerging from Jindal’s voucher scheme. They’re not full-fledged yet, but we can assume they will be once all the details emerge and the dollars start flowing to questionable academies.

Like the New Orleans school run by a self-proclaimed apostle and prophet who owns several dozen “non-profit organizations” listed as “Not in good standing” by the Secretary of State. Apostle Leonard Lucas’ City Light Academy will get some $700,000 from the state for his voucher school.

Or the school owner who’s under investigation for FEMA fraud (taking money for “ineligible” post-Katrina and Gustav repairs and submitting “altered documentation”). Dr. Carolyn Treaudo’s Conquering Word Academy is slated to get about $308,000 in voucher funds.

Those are the new ones in addition to the list that already includes schools that “teach” via TVs and DVDs, schools that include instruction about the benefits of the Ku Klux Klan, and schools that proclaim the Loch Ness Monster to be living proof that evolution is false.

BESE members who are not completely under Jindal’s thumb may ask why it is that public school students will have to endure a much tougher curriculum than those who bolt for private and religious schools.

Then there’s the issue of BESE’s apparently illegal walking quorums, reported by Gannett reporter Barbara Leader, and the subject of this Advocate editorial. It seems that in an effort to skirt the state’s open meeting law, BESE members have been conferring by telephone, but only in numbers small enough to avoid a quorum.

And let’s not leave out the postponed evaluation of State Superintendent of Education John White. BESE was supposed to evaluate White this month, but has postponed the critique until January. Nothing to see here, says Board President Penny Dastugue, but you’d better believe tongues are wagging behind the scenes.

But the biggest bombshell at the meetings Tuesday and Wednesday may come if a member asks about the legality of BESE’s lackadaisical approach to the state’s Administrative Procedures Act. That law regulates how an agency like BESE adopts its policies.

The law says that when BESE adopts a new rule, it must first promulgate the rule and publish it in the Louisiana Register, and then allow a 90-day comment period before the rule is finally adopted.

On July 24, BESE adopted new accountability rules for voucher schools, and immediately began treating the rules as if they are in effect.

But the rules won’t be posted in the Louisiana Register until September. A close reading of the law indicates that the 90-day comment period should open then, and the rule should not be finally adopted for about three months after that.

And why wait until September to post the new rule in the Louisiana Register? BESE promulgated the rule in July; certainly it could have been included in the August Register.

What gives? A disturbance in The Force, perhaps?

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