The Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee has approved by a 5-1 vote Senate Bill 217 by State Sen. A.G. Crowe (R-Slidell) which would allow charter schools to refuse to admit students on the basis of their ability to speak English, their sexual orientation or other unspecified factors.
In what must qualify as one of the more asinine comments coming out of the current session, Crowe said the intent of his bill is to prevent bans by executive branch agencies and local governments on discrimination against characteristics not listed in state law as a condition for private companies to do business with their agencies.
Wait. What? Is Sen. A.G. Crowe really advocating a return to Jim Crow?
Apparently so and so are four of the remaining six members. Sen. Dan Martiny (R-Metairie) was not around for the final vote.
Voting in favor, besides committee Chairman Crowe were Sens. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe), Barrow Peacock (R-Bossier City), Neil Riser (R-Columbia), and Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles).
Of the six Republicans on the committee, only Peacock received no significant campaign contributions from either Gov. Bobby Jindal’s campaign or from corporations affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
ALEC is an organization which denies it is a lobbyist, but, headed by Koch Industries, it includes dozens of large national and multi-national corporations who meet with state legislators on a regular basis to draft legislation for state lawmakers to take back home with them for enactment.
Invariably those laws favor corporate tax breaks and cuts to state employee benefits. ALEC also promotes widespread privatization of heretofore public services and advocates school vouchers and private and charter schools over traditional public schools.
It’s really amazing what a little largesse in the right places can do.
Crowe, Kostelka, Riser, Johns and Martiny each received $2,500 from Jindal’s campaign fund in 2011 and the same five received numerous campaign contributions from ALEC-affiliated corporations.
Perhaps Jindal and some of those corporations should demand a pro rata rebate from Martiny for his failure to vote on the bill.
The state Department of Education contracts with those seeking charter schools were the chief examples cited during testimony for Senate Bill 217. Gov. Bobby Jindal did not respond to requests for comment about calls to unilaterally strip the anti-discriminatory language from the department’s contract criteria.
Sen. Ed Murray, the only committee member to vote no on the measure, said the possibility of SB217 becoming law and negating the anti-discriminatory prohibitions in charter school contracts is “really scary.”
Is it really true that Sen. Murray is the only member of the committee to understand that?
“I can’t believe that at the same time we as a Legislature are passing bills that .… allow charter schools to deny admission based solely on a child’s ability to speak English well enough or play basketball well enough,” Murray said.
“The focus is really simple,” Crowe said. “It says stick to the law.”
State law currently forbids discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national ancestry, age, sex or disability but the Department of Education has expanded that to include sex ethnicity, sexual orientation, athletic performance and special need proficiency in the English language or in a foreign language.
Leslie Ellison, of New Orleans, testified she refused to sign a charter school contract with the Department of Education because it required her company to not discriminate against gays, as well as other criteria not listed in state law. She said the department does not have the right to insert its own opinions into a state contract.
Louisiana Family Forum head Gene Mills a message was being sent for Jindal to strip the provision from his Education Department’s contract criteria. Louisiana Family Forum is a coalition of religious groups that lobby the legislature on issues such as teen abstinence and other social issues.
Neither Jindal nor State Superintendent of Education John White responded to requests for comment about the policy but Jindal press secretary Frank Collins said, “We’re against discrimination, but we don’t believe in special protections or rights.”
Education Department spokesperson Rene Greer said the charter authorization provision was under review by the department.
Someone whose name is long since forgotten once said you get what you pay for and apparently ALEC and Jindal are getting their money’s worth from Louisiana legislators they bought…er, supported.