Monday, May 20, 2013

Scam and scandal in the Course Choice fraud

A motivational speaker without education credentials is paid $145,000 per year to coordinate a "Course Choice" program that will drain millions of dollars from public schools in Louisiana.

He only works four days a week at the State Department of Education because he commutes to Louisiana from his home in Los Angeles.

And the program he runs is already mired in scandal.

This is the state of public education in the age of Gov. Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White.

EdLog has already introduced readers to Dave "Lefty" Lefkowith, the erstwhile motivational speaker, associate of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and purveyor schemes to deregulate energy and manipulate water rights in Florida.

Lefty is the star of this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell, who writes that Lefkowith leapfrogged from a $35,000 contract to the $145,000 position as Assistant Superintendent of Portfolio (whatever that means).

All without having to move from sunny California to muggy Louisiana.

Now we're starting to learn more about the course choices that seem to beg for a criminal investigation.
As Gannett journalists Mary Nash-Wood and Vickie Welborn report here, students in Northwest Louisiana are being registered for the courses without their knowledge.

The company that seems to be improperly registering students without permission is called FastPath, and it stands to make between $700 and $1,275 for each student enrolled in a course. Company officials declined to be interviewed for the article.

We know that FastPath recruiters cut a swath through low-income areas of Caddo and Webster Parishes, promising tablet devices to prospective students, including profoundly disabled children who may not have the ability to use the devices.

"Neither students nor their parents are responsible for the tablet devices if they are lost or stolen," according to the Gannett article. "And they can keep them even if they don’t pass the course."

And who are the education experts trolling for Course Choice students?

FastPath's want ad on Craig's List for "student enrollment specialists" says they have to be 18 years or older, have no criminal record, and have automobile insurance.

"By conducting community outreach through program marketing," the ad says, "this position will promote parental choice in education and the FastPath Learning program. The duties of this position are primarily focused on marketing the program and enrolling students in the program using a mobile device, such as a netbook, notepad, or internet enabled smart phone."

The pay is $16 per hour.

Thanks to indispensable journalist Tom Aswell, we know a lot more about FastPath.

The chairman of the FastPath board is former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who served under President George W. Bush.

Paige was appointed secretary largely because of the"Houston Miracle," his vaunted success as superintendent of the Houston Independent School District. Which turned out to be a fraud, because HSID  falsified its dropout statistics during Paige's tenure.

Jindal. White. Lefkowith. Paige. These are just a few of the names that will go down in infamy for the scam they are perpetrating on the taxpayers and school children of Louisiana.

The State Supreme Court has ruled that Jindal,White et al cannot use Minimum Foundation Program funds to pay for the Course Choice scam. The legislature now has an opportunity to cancel Course Choice before even more damage can be done.

Question is, will lawmakers have the courage to do the right thing?

Friday, May 10, 2013

voucher ruling throws budget into disarray

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that Gov. Jindal's voucher scheme can't be funded by public education's Minimum Foundation Program, where will the money come from to make this year's final payment to the private and religious schools that have accepted some 5,00 students across the state? And what will happen to the program next year?

Neither the Department of Education nor Gov. Bobby Jindal have provided answers. WBRZ-TV reporter Rob Krieger tried to get some information in this report.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Testimony claims fraud in school performance scores

The debate in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday was supposed to be about amending the constitution in order to elect the state superintendent of education. That became a side issue as witnesses described allegations of fraud in the State Department of Education and laid bare Superintendent of Education John White’s sparse credentials to hold the office.

When the dust settled, the committee rejected SB 41 by Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe), but only time will tell how much damage was inflicted on Superintendent White and his department by supporters of the bill.

The first blood was drawn by Sen. Kostelka, who said the superintendent of education is in charge of the biggest single state budget item, totaling $5.35 billion per year. He said the state “should have a superintendent who is accountable to the people and not a rubber stamp for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.”

Under White’s regime, Kostelka said, the public has been denied access to information about the department. Numerous lawsuits have been filed under the freedom of information act in order to view what should be public records.

Noting that most of the education overhauls pushed by White and the Jindal administration last year have been ruled unconstitutional by district courts, Sen. Kostelka said a new direction is needed, and “a clean break is the best way.”

Sen. Kostelka ticked off a laundry list of abuses by the department, including a plan to divulge personal student data to a company that would share it with for-profit organizations, the “utter failure” of the Recovery School District to turn around failing schools, and reports of overpayments and lack of supervision involving millions of dollars spent by the RSD.

The senator said that White’s credentials to head the department are sketchy at best: “We have a 30-something superintendent with a degree in English who spent six weekends at the Broad Academy,” a business-oriented organization that issued White the only certification that qualifies him for the job.

Devastating testimony was presented by Herb Bassett of Grayson, a highly qualified math teacher and band director. Bassett said that he has sent evidence to lawmakers revealing “deceit, distortion manipulation of scores and data suppression.”

Bassett documents what he called “the gross inflation of the high school performance scores. The Department covered up the inflation by intentionally mislabeling an important column of data in the initial public release of the scores.”

“The Transition Baselines,” he said, “showed that the GEE (Graduation Exit Exam)—which was being phased out—and the new EOC (End of Course) tests were mis-calibrated by 7.5 points. That’s half a letter grade. Had it been correctly labeled, the inflation would have been obvious.”

Bassett said that BESE was given a different set of scores than was shown to the public. Because the scores given to BESE were the correct ones, he said, “This shows intent to deceive.”

Bassett was interrupted by Sen. Jack Donohue (R-Mandeville), who said that these allegations are very serious, and that he would expect someone from the department or BESE to answer the charges.

Later, BESE President Chas Roemer (R-Baton Rouge) appeared in opposition to the bill. When asked about the allegations of fraud, he said that he had no knowledge about them, but that he would “look into it.”

Committee Chairman Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) asked Roemer to investigate the charges and report back to the committee.

Louisiana's indispensable investigative journalist, Tom Aswell, has much more on the story in this blog post.