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A Step Toward Destruction: Public Education in Louisiana - Tuesday, August 2, 2011

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A Step Toward Destruction:

Public Education in Louisiana



            Investors (see LSBA Follow the Charter Money) see public education in Louisiana as an answer to their search for hidden diamonds in the rough.


            Why are there so many big dollar contributors (Gates, Broad, Milken, et. Al.) involved in New Orleans public schools, and particularly the RSD operated schools?


            The rush to charter, hire for-profit education management organizations, and contract out as many services as possible is a driver for businesses to grab the General Motors of the education world.  While it might not be the biggest education precious stone, New Orleans schools offer a quick route into Louisiana, and the nation.


            Perhaps that explains why the American Federation for Children (AFC) granted several states, including Louisiana, $900,000 to spend on elections of charter-voucher-tax credit committed candidates to legislative and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) membership.


            Perhaps that explains why two of the top national operating staff of the AFC spent July 23rd in Baton Rouge conducting a how to get elected program for potential candidates, and passing out checks to declared candidates.


            Perhaps that is why Lane Grigsby, a wealthy Baton Rouge contractor, publicly stated he’d put $1.6 million into electing BESE candidates pledged to displacing public school education in favor of "choice.”


            One might wonder why the corporate approach to creating an education market is being pushed so aggressively?


            Perhaps it is because the product doesn’t have a very long shelf-life! 


            The earliest experience in New Orleans brought an increase in security guard to kid ratio from nearly 400 to 1 pre-Katrina, down to 35 to 1.  It also brought contract food service to the only education district in the state that outside food provision is allowed, and that meant still frozen food on kids trays.


            It brought the firing of Mosaica, the fourth largest for-profit school operator in the country, by the Lafayette Academy charter committee and the ultimate legal action to recover $350,000 of unearned profit.


            Then, it brought about the revelation that a charter business official stole $600,000 from a new charter school in New Orleans.  Not long afterward, BESE was pressured by Jindal forces, including BESE member Chas Roemer, to renew charters for a dozen schools none of which had met student achievement goals contained in their charter contracts; and 11 of which had not met fiscal reporting requirements in their contracts. 


            When Roemer offered the motion to renew, he may have done something the Louisiana Ethics Commission opined would put him in violation of Louisiana ethics laws.  His sister is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Charter Schools.


            This year, the 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge terminated its for-profit Edison Learning manager of two charters because the payroll at those schools could not be met due to overspending by the company that had also failed to improve student achievement.


            Some entertainment business, and local artists were found to be using the Colton School that had been grabbed by the RSD.  When BESE realized that nightly rock concerts were being offered and beer sold in the Colton assembly hall, the practice was cancelled by Pastorek and Vallas.  No explanation of the financial arrangements that permitted this misuse of school buildings was ever forthcoming.


            Now it has brought about the abrupt cancelling of the Pelican Foundation charter, Abramson, in New Orleans for numerous alleged abuses of state rules and laws.


            Published reports in the Times-Picayune and The Advocate has revealed how RSD leaders view public school boards.  As recently as last month, John White suggested to a legislative committee that the time has come to recognize that urban elected school boards have no role to play in education.


            The carpetbaggers who are behind the movement, AFC backers the DeVos (Amway, Inc.), Alice Walton (Wal-Mart), Bill Gates (Microsoft) et. Al., want the role of school boards to change. Schools would no longer be owned by local school districts. Instead, schools would be operated by independent contractors, many of them limited-liability corporations.


            There is clear evidence that the charter schools operated by the RSD are not responsive to the parents or other stakeholders.  Authorizing committee members sometimes do not reside in the communities served (in violation of RSD law).  Most often charter authorizers do not inform the time or place of meetings, or how charter board members can be reached.


            The Louisiana Legislative Auditor has, for three years running, found many flaws in the accounting and reporting records of RSD charters.


            The RSD schools have continuously spent at minimum 30% more per pupil than is spent by other local school districts in Louisiana.  Yet, most of the RSD schools are ranked among the lowest performing of all schools in a rank ordering of School Performance Scores maintained by the State education department.


            The Ed in ‘08/Strong American Schools program was an unheard-of, private effort to completely change public policy on schools essentially by buying their way into every electoral forum.   Gates and Eli Broad used this effort to completely change the debate about public education in the corporate direction.  They spent around $60 million, nationally, on a multi-media campaign to influence elections all across the nation.


                Today, Gov. Jindal and his political supporters plan a similar campaign in Louisiana.  They plan tol pour vast sums of money into legislative and BESE campaigns to pack the bodies of education decision-making.  They will turn to the American Legislative Exchange Association (ALEC) model legislative package on education to ram through the 2012 session the overall policies that will destroy locally elected governance of education.


                ALEC is meeting this week in New Orleans.  Sen. Noble Ellington is the national president, and Gov. Jindal is one of the keynote speakers.  Never one to miss an opportunity to meet (behind closed doors) Jindal  has invited some of the bigger spenders in New Orleans for the ALEC meetings to a private session at the Marriot Hotel.


                The shift of power from the grass roots connections in towns and cities across Louisiana to the AFC/ALEC controlled leadership is not assured.  But, it will take wide public recognition of the threat, and a concerted action to prevent the domination of outside dollars in this October’s elections.


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