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Louisiana School Board Association

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What the BESE Elections are all about! - Monday, November 7, 2011

Hear the Echoes No. 33


What the BESE Elections are all about!



Three seats remain contested on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.  One slate of opposing candidates can be seen to be education representatives who have been toiling to bring up student achievement while the other stands for so-called choice.


Kira Orange-Jones is paid to foster choice through Teach for America.  Chas Roemer Is tied to charter schooling through his former membership on a charter board and through his sister (Carolyn Roemer-Shirley) who is executive director of the state charter association.  While Carolyn Hill, originally seemed to be non- aligned, has now, like the other two, agreed to demands by the ABC PAC to support Jindal’s education program. 


It is well recognized that Gov. Jindal’s program is to privatize.  Just how far has his administration gone down the path of turning Louisiana schools into profit centers for Wall Street benefit?


Public educators in Louisiana know that the TAP program is a comprehensive strategy that the Louisiana Department of Education uses to boost teacher effectiveness through opportunities for career advancement, professional growth, performance evaluation, and competitive compensation.  It was adopted by the LDOE with funding from the Milken Family Foundation.


A total of $137 million has been devoted by Milken to the overall program, which includes powerful professional development opportunities. Lowell Milken is the brother to Michael Milken, the Wall Street "junk bond king” jailed for violating U.S. securities laws, who manages the Foundation whose cash drives TAP.  The brothers are widely involved in making profit from public education.


K12, Inc, based in Reston, Virginia, is the brainchild of Michael Milken and former US Secretary of Education William Bennett. This for-profit company has established similar "virtual charter schools" or "virtual learning academies" in numerous states in recent years. Their marketing strategy typically involves heavy targeting of the homeschooling community.

Knowledge Universe, the Milken education enterprise, consists of nearly 50 companies, many of them interlocked, and worth an estimated $1.75 billion.  Milken provided $10 million to get K12 Inc. launched.


 Offering the K12 Inc. curriculum through charter schools means promoters can collect tax money rather than having to convince parents to pay for the program themselves. Thus they can charge more money (often more than $5,000 per student per year) than most parents could afford to pay.  For instance, Louisiana granted K12, Inc. a state-wide virtual high school charter that began operation this year.  Parents can enroll their home-schooled children, on-line at K12’s web site, for $4,600, but the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to grant K-12, Inc., $8,100 per student with Roemer speaking in favor.


With 1,100 students enrolled in Louisiana’s K-12’s charter for 2011-12, revenue going out of state to K-12 amounts to $8.9 million for the year.  Nnot a bad mark-up when one considers that K-12, Inc., in 2010, charged the Idaho Virtual Academy $12.8 million for 2,930 students ( only $4,368.60 per student). 


By any measure, that’s a pretty good return on investment in Louisiana’s teacher improvement.  Milkens’ privately- held Learning Group LLC is the largest shareholder of K12, owning 24 percent of the company.  Roemer supported granting K-12 a per-student charge equal to 85% of the Minimum Foundation Program given to regular brink-and-mortar schools with more overhead expenses.

Knowledge Universe Education, a California-based holding company chaired by Milken, with stakes in more than 50 education companies, including K12, also operates Blackboard.  This company is the Leviathan of the proprietary learning-management system market. Louisiana’s Department of Education also bought into Blackboard. 


Ron Packard, the Chief Operating Officer at K-12, Inc., has been quoted as follows: "…I’ve never seen an environment with so many opportunities.  Our commitment to innovate in education is stronger than ever as we pursue our manifest destiny of making K-12 education available to every child.”  He told Wall Street analysts, on February 9th-, that legislation is already pending to boost business. 

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp., is also high on education technology. Last November, News Corp. paid $360 million for Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn-based education reform company.

 Murdoch is quoted as saying: "When it comes to K-12 education, we see a $500 billion sector, in the U.S. alone, that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”

"In fact,” Murdoch said, "education is rapidly becoming a $1 trillion industry, second in size only to the health care industry, and represents 10 percent of America’s GNP. Federal, state and local expenditures on education exceed $750 billion.”


Murdoch hired ex-Chancellor of New York City Schools Joel Klein as CEO for his education ventures.  Klein hired John White from Teach for America to serve as hatchet man on closure and consolidation of NYC schools.  White is now superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District.  BESE candidate, Kira Orange-Jones, runs the New Orleans operation of Teach for America and is a native of New York City.  Michael Bloomberg, mayor of NYC, contributed well over $100,000 to the ABC-PAC in part to support Ms. Orange-Jones and Chas Roemer.


The connection between the "billionaire boys club”, as termed by author Diane Ravitch, and profit potential from investment in Louisiana education’s system poised to take ever increasing amounts of MFP cash away from school buildings is evident in this analysis.  Giving Gov. Jindal control of two-thirds of BESE opens the door to the vault for Wall Street profit interests.


Don Whittinghill