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It's All About a Brighter Future! - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

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The BESE Election

It’s All About a Brighter Future!


"We encourage all parents who want to give their children the gift of a brighter future to seriously consider this program and to apply as early in the week as possible," said Shree' Medlock, state director of the Louisiana BAEO (Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options). "This program has a parental satisfaction rate of 93 percent, and we're confident that there will be significant demand for scholarships this year."


The quote comes from the Louisiana Federation for Children’s (LFC) blog page.  This is the organization that once was known a All Children Matter (ACM).  ACM was dissolved when three states sued over campaign misdeeds that violated ethics laws.  The leadership of LFC however traces back to the same sources as did ACM.    LFC’s has conducted candidate training for upcoming Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and legislative campaigns.  It is advertising for a media specialist to hawk publicity favorable to LFC backed candidates and present favorable spin on education choice.


The national mother-ship of AFC has granted over $900,000 to four states, Louisiana being one, to underwrite this year’s election activities.


The facts about the Louisiana-funded scholarships that enable children whose families earn no more than $74,985 (for a family of six) to receive up to $7,562 scholarships, raise a serious question.


These vouchers enable students to attend private and religious schools at state expense.  Only two of the voucher-accepting private schools outperformed the state average on the LEAP/iLEAP tests.  Four of the 34 schools accepting vouchers performed worse than any New Orleans RSD K-8 schools.  The RSD schools occupy most of the lowest 30 positions in the state rank order of School Performance Scores.


The state average of students basic or above in grades 3, 4, and 5, in 2011 was 75%, while the RSD got 49% of their students to basic or above.  Voucher students trailed with only 38% of their students reaching basic and above.


What happens when voucher-benefit children attending a school with only 37% of testing students achieve basic or above?


When only two of 34 voucher-accepting schools produce test results better than the state average, it most certainly is not academic achievement that would persuade 93% of parents receiving vouchers to express satisfaction with their children’s school.


Even the much-vaunted Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) has all four of its New Orleans schools performing below the state average.


As of February 2011, there were 1,653 students enrolled as voucher supported.  This year the appropriations act contains $8.5 million to support the vouchers.  No one knows how much the parental tax exemption of up to $5,000 per student will cost the State Treasury.


The data shows that most of these children are not getting better education opportunities.  Yet, when the Louisiana House of Representatives Appropriations Committee struck out of the appropriations bill the funding for the voucher program, Gov. Jindal fought hard to have the cut restored on the House floor, and prevailed on the Senate side as well.


Gov. Jindal is so fixated upon his strategy of shrinking government and converting public schools into profit centers for Education Management Organizations (EMO) that disciplined effort by legislators to reduce the budget put the Governor out of step with his own expressed goals.


The fact that there are no academic standards for initial participation of students in the voucher program, no criteria for continued participation, and no way to exclude a school based upon performance leaves an open checkbook on Gov. Jindal’s desk; and he accepts that fact.


Supposedly "good government” organization Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) is highly supportive and partners with LFC.  Brigitte Nieland, a vice president at LABI, presented at the Republican Party candidate training session held Saturday in Baton Rouge.  The study group contained potential BESE candidates who were given campaign contributions following the session.


Such an alliance, in its support of vouchers, tax credits, and charter schools, ignores the growing evidence that lax governance is leading to public disclosure of wrong-doing all across the nation.  It is not just Abramson in New Orleans, or Kenilworth in Baton Rouge being investigated.


Atlanta, it has been revealed, experienced a cheating scandal involving Teach for America teacher in charter schools.  Similar scandals occurred in Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Houston.  Two of Pennsylvania’s largest charters are being investigated for suspected test irregularities.


Teach for America (TFA) is deeply rooted in the RSD and charter school movement.  At least 250 TFA teachers are reported to be working in Louisiana.  Three TFA teachers in Atlanta schools confessed to cheating.  Now, we have student reports at Abramson that teachers wrongfully help students in testing and perform science fair exhibits for their students. 


Even five years after the RSD took over under-performing New Orleans schools, the best results the RSD can get from an annual Legislative Auditor report is that there is some improvement.  Nevertheless, the audit is critical of RSD management.


No wonder Sen. Ed Murray, New Orleans, is opening an investigation by his Legislative Audit Advisory committee.


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