Tuesday, July 31, 2012

LFT statement on demands made of voucher schools

We understand that letters have been sent to schools that will accept vouchers. The letters demand that schools sign a statement saying that they will not take voucher money from the state. Unless the schools agree, the letter says, litigation will be instituted against them.

This action was not taken by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, and is not part of the consolidated lawsuit filed by the LFT and others.

LFT believes that Governor Jindal’s voucher scheme is unconstitutional and that it will damage the educational opportunities for the vast majority of Louisiana’s children. That is why we filed suit to halt the voucher program.

Our legal challenge is aimed at the State of Louisiana and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for approving a blatantly illegal and harmful program. It is not a fight with the private and religious schools that believe they are acting in good faith by accepting the money offered by the state.

To be clear, 19th Judicial District Judge Tim Kelly was asked at a recent hearing what recourse the state would have if, after schools begin accepting voucher funds, the law is ruled unconstitutional. Judge Kelly said at the time that suits could be filed to recover the funds.

It is not the intention of the LFT to cause any harm to private and religious schools. It is a shame that Gov. Jindal, the legislature and BESE have created a situation that may wind up disrupting the education of children in our state and causing distress for the private and religious schools that were drawn into their scheme.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Standing for Astroturf

Astroturf organizations get their name from the artificial grass used in athletic stadiums. While pretending to be authentic, grassroots movements, they are really cover groups for wealthy corporations and individuals that want to appear as if they have the public interest at heart.

At first blush, Stand for Children Louisiana would appear to fit that definition. After all, it shilled for all of Gov. Jindal's anti-public education schemes during the last legislative session, and its executive director is a former high-ranking official of the Jindal administration's education department.

This letter to the Advocate editor, from a Stand for Children functionary, would seem to reinforce the suspicion that Stand for Children is little more than a front for the big business interests looking to drain public education's resources. Why else would he "commend" the state education board for the devastation being visited on our schools?

And while the evidence certainly points to the subversion of Stand for Children by the governor and his ilk, it is instructional to note that it was not always so.

As this blog entry from Parents Across America documents, Stand for Children was originally the product of a pro-public education rally organized by child advocate Marian Wright Edelman's son, Jonah. It was nurtured in Oregon, "fighting...for early childhood education, foster care, child abuse prevention and a variety of other programs centered on children."

Unfortunately, writes one of Stand for Children's early members, SFC has changed: "SFC now has private equity investors and venture philanthropists on the board, making decisions for the organization as it grows new chapters. And, grow they will, as they have announced the need to hire a National Expansion Manager, having raised over a million dollars in funding from the Walton Foundation, and over three million dollars from the Gates Foundation."

"When I joined," writes SFC member Susan Barrett,  "SFC fought for more school funding and endorsed pro-education candidates for elective office. Our elementary school parents were passionate about lowering class sizes and enhancing our crumbling school facilities. A “grassroots” organization like SFC was the perfect fit for parents like me who wanted to work on these issues."

But then, she says, things changed at Oregon's Stand for Children chapter. The organization brought in high-priced consultants and outsiders who urged support for corporate, hedge-fund driven "reforms."

Suddenly, Oregon's Stand for Children chapter began pushing the state legislature for charter schools, online learning, and tax rebates that only make sense "when you see...how billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates and the Walton Family Foundation are now funding and driving the organization’s agenda."

If it's sounding like what happened in Louisiana,  you're right - Barrett even started hearing terms like "defenders of the status quo" tossed around.

So it is probably safe to characterize Stand for Children Louisiana as an astroturf organization. Maybe it wasn't always so, but the corrupting influence of money has tainted whatever good could come out of the organization in our state.