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.

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