Friday, August 24, 2012

Hogs at the trough, from Louisiana Voice

Blogger Tom Aswell at Louisiana Voice has been following Gov. Jindal's schemes, and has posted this article documenting the ways that "course providers" will raid the state treasury: 

Feeding time for Department of Education online courses for Jindal’s Student Scholarships for Educatonal Excellence Act

August 22, 2012 by tomaswell

And so it came to pass that LouisianaVoice’s June 20 story about course providers as allowed by HB 976 (Act 2) of this year’s regular legislative session is playing out precisely as we said it would: the hogs are already bellying up to the buffet.

Course providers, you may recall, are the new kids on the education block who are crowding in for their slice of education funds pie by teaching virtual classes online. They don’t have classrooms but at least there’s no bus for students to catch.

The early submission deadline for potential course providers was Aug. 17 and the early Department of Education (DOE) review to accept, defer or reject applicants is Sept. 14. The interview of applicants who have been tentatively approved will begin on Sept. 18 and DOE is scheduled to post the accepted applications online by Sept. 28.

There were 25 applicants as of Tuesday, Aug. 21, according to documents provided by DOE.

The Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Act, as HB 976 is officially known, directs the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to create a “reciprocal teacher certification process” for teachers who reside in other states by next January.

Under terms of the act, postsecondary education institutions may serve as quality course providers for students who seek advanced level course work or technical or vocational instruction. Because “technical” and “vocational” were included in the bill’s language, that could mean that “postsecondary education institutions” would include not only traditional universities and colleges, but individuals, vocational and technical schools and proprietary schools.

But the bill goes on to specify that business and industry may also serve as “quality course providers that offer course work in their particular field of expertise.”

To read the rest of the article, please click here.

Ideology and profit trump good policy in White’s press release

(Baton Rouge – August 24, 2010) In touting the product of a researcher nationally recognized for studies biased in favor of school vouchers, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White continues down the path of rhetoric and partisan politics at the expense of taxpayers and school children, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said today.

“It is obvious that Superintendent White and Governor Jindal have made a conscious effort to elevate ideology over good education policy,” Monaghan said. “The infusion of large sums of money spawned this agenda, and the pursuit of large sums of money continues to fuel it."

The LFT president was responding to a press release from White’s office claiming that vouchers in New York City “significantly increase college enrollment of African-American students.”

The study by Paul Peterson, a professor of government at Harvard University and fellow at the right-wing Hoover Institution, is extremely limited in scope and ignores factors other than vouchers in reaching its conclusion, Monaghan said.

The study found that vouchers in New York City had “no overall impacts on college enrollment.” However, Peterson and his fellow researcher said they found “large, statistically significant positive impacts on the college going of African-American students who participated in the study.”

“Superintendent White makes a giant leap from that finding and concludes that Louisiana will see ‘rising student achievement and ultimately more college graduates’ because of vouchers in our state,” Monaghan said. “His logic has more holes than a screen door.”

To read the rest of this article, please click here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bought and paid for

Just yesterday, an EdLog post explored the link between political action committees and members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education who are aligned with Gov. Jindal’s radical plan to privatize education in Louisiana.

Former Gov. Buddy Roemer was quoted in the post as saying “institutional corruption places our elections in the hands of the mega contributors.”

Today we started to learn what those mega contributors expect in return for their support. A press release from the Department of Education excitedly announced that applications are pouring in from would-be “course providers” who will be dipping their beaks in public education’s Minimum Foundation Program.

One of the first applicants, the press release announces, is Associated Builders & Contractors, Inc., an industry group associated with ABC Pelican Pac, one of the state’s major political action committees.

ABC Pelican PAC contributed $110,000 to candidates favored by Gov. Jindal and his allies in last fall’s BESE campaign.

The term “course providers” appears in Act 2 of the 2012 legislature. The program is outlined in pages 26 through 32 of the 47-page act, which is currently undergoing a constitutional challenge from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and others.

“Business and industry,” the law says, “can serve as quality course providers that offer course work in their particular field or expertise…”

A course provider is defined as “an entity that offers individual courses in person or online, including but not limited to online or virtual education providers, postsecondary education institutions, including any postsecondary institution under the management of the Board of Supervisors of Community and Technical Colleges, and corporations that offer vocational or technical course work in their field, and have been authorized to provide such courses by the state board.”

Virtually any student in Louisiana, including those who are in public schools, private and religious schools, or are home schooled, is eligible to take courses offered by providers, with the state picking up the cost through public education’s MFP.

Course providers will be paid “the market rate…up to one-sixth of 90 percent of the per-pupil amount” for each course taken by students. The money will come from funds that would have gone to the local school system.

ABC’s looming raid on public education funds is just the tip of the iceberg. While much attention has been paid to the private and religious schools that will get vouchers, little light has been shed thus far on the river of money that will flow to similar business and industry providers, proprietary online schools, education entrepreneurs and others.

But if the ABC experience is any indicator, we will see many connections between political contributions to BESE members and the course providers they will be called upon to approve for state funding.

Monday, August 20, 2012

When the apple falls far, far from the tree

Former U.S. Congressman and Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer recently dropped his long-shot presidential aspiration to tackle an even more daunting goal: reforming our corrupt campaign finance practices.

Gov. Roemer even appeared before Congress last month to testify about the malign effects of unfettered campaign contributions on our political system. At a hearing entitled “Taking Back Our Democracy: Responding to Citizens United and the Rise of Super PACs,” Roemer complained that “Our institutional corruption places our elections in the hands of the mega contributors.”

Taking his argument just a bit further, the former governor said “The system is not broke … It’s bought.”

The theme of Roemer’s testimony, according to this article by Advocate Washington Bureau Chief Jordan Blum, was “the need to enact campaign finance reform and rein in runaway corporate spending in elections.”

It is a message apparently lost on his politically ambitious son, Chas, and other members of the state board of education who have thrown in with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s radical education agenda.

According to campaign finance reports, Chas Roemer was the beneficiary of $597,142.15 during last fall’s campaign for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The bulk of Chas’ contributions, more than $248,000, came from the Republican Party of Louisiana.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, through its network of PACS, put $87,500 into the Roemer campaign.

The ABC Pelican PAC, the political arm of the Associated Builders and Contractors, contributed $20,000 to Chas’ campaign.

Gov. Jindal himself donated $15,000 to Roemer’s campaign.

The Standard Companies of New Orleans, a beverage company subsidiary of DS Waters of America, put up $14,000.

Publishing magnate Rolf McCollister gave Roemer $6,000, on top of invaluable column inches in his newspaper.

From its offices in Virginia, the pro-voucher Louisiana Federation of Children’s PAC sent another $6,000.

Roemer’s closest competitor, former Ascension Parish Superintendent of Schools Superintendent Donald Songy, raised a total of $56,660 for the race (full disclosure: the Louisiana Federation of Teachers contributed less than $6,000 Songy’s campaign).

Given that disparity in resources – nearly $600,000 versus less than $57,000 – Roemer was able to mount a very effective, and very negative, multi-media campaign that overwhelmed Songy.

Roemer was not the only candidate blessed by Jindal and his big business friends. Candidates allied with the governor amassed contributions of more than $2.8 million. Even New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got into the act, donating $55,000 to Jindal’s candidates. The closest competitors to the Jindal ticket raised a combined total of less than $348,000.

The money fueled a tsunami of advertising that had never been seen in BESE races, guaranteeing a victory for Gov. Jindal’s forces.

The immediate result of the election was the anointing of John White as superintendent, followed by a BESE kowtow to whatever privatization scheme the governor proposes. Which, as blogger Mike Deshotels writes here, means that hundreds of millions of dollars will soon be siphoned away from public schools into the pockets of “course choice providers” linked to big business.

Buddy Roemer is right. Big money donors and their unlimited contributions are the major corrupting factors in American politics. When will he tell Chas?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Supreme Court won’t enjoin Jindal’s voucher scheme

Echoing a district court ruling, the Louisiana Supreme Court today denied a request for an injunction to halt funding for Governor Bobby Jindal’s controversial school voucher plan. A trial to determine the constitutionality of the voucher scheme will proceed as scheduled on October 15, however.

The Supreme Court affirmed District Judge Tim Kelly’s decision that the judiciary cannot enjoin the voucher program because Superintendent of Education John White and Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater signed affidavits claiming that an injunction would create a deficit in the state budget.
“Even though we contend that their statements are demonstrably false – there is no way that not spending money can cause a deficit – the courts must accept the affidavits as factual and cannot challenge them in any way,” said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan. “Judge Kelly was very clear when he told us the law does not allow him to question the truthfulness of the statements by White and Rainwater.”

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers and others have sued the state on grounds that Act 2 of 2012, which established the voucher program, violates the state constitution for at least two reasons, and did not pass the legislature by the required number of votes.

Today’s ruling has no bearing on the legitimacy of the challenge or the ultimate outcome of the case. The LFT had sought the injunction to spare the confusion that will come if the law is declared unconstitutional while students are already attending voucher schools.

To read the rest of this story, please click here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

John White takes a mulligan

As national attention focuses on the circus-clown collection of schools selected to receive state education funds through Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher scheme, Superintendent of Education John White has done what any duffer would. He’s asked for a do-over.

White can be excused for asking what your golfing buddy might request after shanking one deep into the weeds. He has made our state a national laughingstock by approving state dollars for schools that don’t have adequate teachers, facilities or curricula. With Loch Ness monsters for science and videos for literature, there’s little else to do but ask for a time out and a second chance.

So as Times-Picayune reporter Andrew Vanacore writes here, and Gannett reporter Mike Hasten writes here, White wants a chance to reflect and make changes in the risible procedure that Louisiana’s state education board uses to approve non-public schools.

Before Gov. Jindal launched his all-out effort to privatize our schools, the approval of non-publics was not that big a deal. They got the right to issue diplomas that would be recognized by the state, and they got textbooks, as well as some transportation and special education services.

The stakes rose dramatically with the advent of vouchers. Now approved schools are eligible to collect between $4,000 and $8,000 per student, courtesy of Louisiana’s taxpayers. Some of those lining up for state handouts make even the most challenged of our public schools look like paragons of academic excellence.

All the attention has White hanging like a millstone on Jindal’s national aspirations, and so the walkback began at BESE’s meetings this week. Before any more private or religious schools can be approved by the state, White wants to take a breather and rethink the two main criteria by which the state currently weighs their applications: they must not discriminate on the basis of race, and they must protect the "academic welfare, health (and) safety of children."

Those don’t constitute a heavy lift. As a result, some extremely questionable schools have passed the test.

"Conditions,” White told BESE with a straight face, “have changed such that this process now has greater importance. Thus the department has said we're going to take a look at this process."

That is a shame for the six schools that happened to be up for approval at this week’s BESE meeting. They will not be anointed by the same rubber stamp that has blessed some 385 private and religious schools in Louisiana. Even though this six have apparently met all the qualifications as the others, it is their misfortune to be applying in the August of White’s discontent.

And so on a motion by BESE President Penny Dastugue, the board obediently granted White’s Department of Education until October to devise some stricter criteria by which nonpublic schools may earn the privilege of nourishment from the public breast.

The change won’t make Jindal’s voucher scheme legal; it remains for the courts to make that determination. It certainly won’t turn the program into good public policy. It won’t improve education for the hundreds of thousands of Louisiana children who deserve better.

But hope abides that it might dampen criticism of the Jindal agenda long enough for the governor to make his leap to whatever post his ambitions direct him toward.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

True Blood: A Louisiana story

With all the attention focused on Gov. Jindal’s voucher scheme, one might think the diversion of public education funds to private and religious schools is the most insidious attack imaginable on our schools.

One would be wrong. If anything, the vouchers are a diversion from an even greater threat to public schools and the profession of teaching. Like vouchers, that threat was delivered in Act 2 of 2012, one of the governor’s signature education initiatives.

The act was so big, so bloated with various unrelated schemes, and was rushed through the system with so little scrutiny, that most people didn’t pay much attention to what is now called the Louisiana Course Choice program or LCC.

But on Tuesday morning, a BESE committee approved a $675,000 “professional service” expenditure that will eventually bleed education funds like a vampire on an artery.

The money will purchase an online course registration system for the LCC. It is, to stretch a metaphor, the invitation that a vampire must receive before it is allowed into your house. Once inside, however, the sucking commences without mercy.

As described in the BESE proposal, “LCC is a first-of-its-kind program that will allow K-12 students in Louisiana to take a wide variety of course offerings from ‘non-traditional’ course providers – post-secondary academic institutions, online providers, businesses and business associations and educational entrepreneurs…”

And just who might these non-traditional course providers be? Numerous warnings have been posted, but one of the most recent is this Reuters article by Stephanie Simon.

Speaking to a group of investors, she writes, an education consultant explained how the groundwork has already been laid for the vampires to pounce on public education’s throbbing veins:

“Think about the upcoming rollout of new national academic standards for public schools, he urged the crowd. If they're as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math. They'll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it.”

Acrosss the United States, some $500 billion a year is spent on public education. In Louisiana, our Minimum Foundation Program budget is $3.41 billion. The vampires want it.

Simon writes that investors believe “a golden moment has arrived,” and that “investors are pouring private equity and venture capital into scores of companies that aim to profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.”

And no place in the United States has made it easier for the vampires than Louisiana, with its “first-of-a-kind” program that offers up our children on an altar of blood and money.

Simon quotes a private equity investor: "Education is behind healthcare and other sectors that have utilized outsourcing to become more efficient."

The question, one of the vampires asks, is "How do we use technology so that we require fewer highly qualified teachers?"

Louisiana is about to find out.

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?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Public Broadcasting tackles the voucher scheme

Watch Louisiana Public Broadcasting's "Louisiana: The State We're In" segment on Louisiana's school voucher plan. Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan and Public Relations Director Les Landon are featured.

To watch the video, please click here.

Dear Colleague,

On June 4, the 2012 Regular Legislative Session ended as it had begun – in a “chaotic legislative debate.”

Governor Jindal may boast of victory for steamrolling a package of dubious education “reforms” through the legislature, but many now are asking: What was won, and at what cost?

The session left in its wake a sour taste for an orchestrated process and a legacy of lawsuits. The LFT, as promised, filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of both Acts 1 and 2 on June 7. Later, the LAE and the Louisiana School Board Association also filed lawsuits challenging Act 2. All three challenges to Act 2 have been consolidated under the LFT lawsuit.

We understand that elections have consequences. The power to govern rightfully belongs to those who are elected. However, we also believe that campaigns should not be perpetual. When a campaign ends, the responsibility to govern begins. Unfortunately, ideology has trumped policy. Louisiana suffers, our communities suffer, our schools suffer, our teachers suffer, and our children suffer because the campaign season did not end in November, 2011.

Choices were made to vilify teachers. Choices were made to frame public schools as failures. Choices were made to blame the unions, the school boards, and/or anyone who dared question the governor’s agenda.

To read more, please click here.