The reports of fraudulent registration of students for courses in the Louisiana Department of Education’s (DOE) Course Choice program continue to filter in with more reported signups and solicitations in East Baton Rouge, Calcasieu and Claiborne parishes.
And while State Superintendent of Education John White is certainly culpable in the whole sordid mess, it is significant that only one of 28 legislators who are members of either the Senate or House Education Committees took the opportunity to address two emerging education issues when asked to do so by LouisianaVoice.
We sent emails to each member of the two committees (along with a select few other legislators). We identified ourselves at the outset and said that we had been writing about the leaking of teacher evaluation data by White, which would seem to be in clear violation of Act 54 of the 2010 Legislature.
We also said we were continuing work on the developing story about 1100 students in Caddo and Webster (a story that has since grown to include the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Calcasieu, Claiborne and Bossier) who were signed up for courses by Course Choice providers without either the knowledge or consent of the students signed up or their parents.
Course Choice providers like Fast Start and FastPath are paid one-half of their tuition, which ranges from $700 to $1250 per course, up front with the remaining one-half being paid upon the student’s completion of the course. Course Choice providers are given wide latitude in deciding whether or not a student completes his or her course.
We posed the question of whether or not an investigation should be conducted into how FastPath and Smart Start received students’ names and other personal information in order to sign them up for the courses.
One member, Rep. Rob Shadoin (R-Ruston), responded to our inquiry, saying, “I do not know enough details on these matters to give you a comment. I have general knowledge of what you speak but no specifics. I’m sorry I ain’t much help to you on the subject.”
Might we suggest, Mr. Shadoin, that as a member of the House Education Committee you might wish to bring yourself up to speed on education issues such as these—or resign from the committee?
But at least Shadoin did respond, such as it was.
That was a little better than the deafening silence from the all but one of the other members of the two committees.
State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) said of the leaking of evaluation data on three Caddo Parish teachers to State Rep. Alan Seabaugh by White, “It would seem that whoever disclosed the information in the DOE in blatant disregard for the statutory protections affording teachers the right to keep certain specific evaluation information from public view is just the latest indication, among many, that those folks (in DOE) have no respect for the rule of law.”
Edwards also was critical of the Course Choice registrations. “The roll-out of Course Choice is proving to be every bit as scandalous and controversial as the roll-out of vouchers: unfit providers offering inferior educational opportunities while aggressively seeking to profit at taxpayer expense and while mal-educating our children and deceiving their parents.”
Here are the responses of the members of the House Education Committee:
• Stephen Carter (R-Baton Rouge), Chairman: Silence;
• Patrick Jefferson (D-Homer), Vice Chairman: Silence;
• Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans): Silence;
• Christopher Broadwater (R-Hammond): Silence;
• Henry Burns (R-Haughton): Silence—in fact, deleted our email without reading it;
• Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport): Silence;
• Simone Champagne (R-Erath): Silence;
• Cameron Henry (R-Metairie): Silence;
• Paul Hollis (R-Covington): Silence;
• Barry Ivey (R-Baton Rouge): Silence;
• Nancy Landry (R-Lafayette): Silence (Readers may remember Landry as the member who attempted to ram through a rule that teachers testifying before the committee in 2012 should be compelled to say whether or not they were on annual or sick leave);
• Edward Price (D-Gonzales): Silence;
• Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-Thibodaux): responded he would have a statement, but never sent it;
• Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge): Silence;
• Jeff Thompson (R-Bossier City): Silence);
• Alfred Williams (D-Baton Rouge): Silence;
• Ex Officio member House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles): Silence;
• Ex Officio member Walt Leger (D-New Orleans): Silence.
Senate Education Committee members and their responses:
• Conrad Appel (R-Metairie), Chairman: Silence;
• Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte), Vice Chairman: Silence;
• Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge): Silence;
• Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville): Silence;
• Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas): Silence;
• Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe—still trying to learn if humans can be grown from high school lab cultures): Silence;
• Mack “Bodi” White (R-Baton Rouge—obviously too busy trying to get his breakaway school zone in South Baton Rouge approved): Silence;
• Interim member Page Cortez (R-Lafayette): Silence.
Nine House Education Committee members—Carter, Ivey, Smith, Alfred Williams, Jefferson, Henry Burns, Carmody, Jeff Thompson and Kleckley— and two Senators—Claitor and White—represent parishes into which these Course Choice providers have already moved to begin registering students and yet they still choose to remain silent on the issue.
Yes, it’s easy to point the finger at the snow cone stand mentality of DOE management by White and Course Choice ramrod Lefty Lefkowith but by their overwhelming silence in this matter, these committee members are every bit as complicit as anyone in the Claiborne Building.
It’s as if these people live in a vacuum. Take the computer-generated response we received from Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia):
“Thank you for contacting Senator Riser regarding your thoughts and concerns. He appreciates hearing from you. He will keep this in mind as they go thru the legislative process.”
Now that’s taking an issue head-on.
Meanwhile, Course Choice peddlers have moved into East Baton Rouge and Calcasieu to sign up students. Two in Calcasieu have been rejected thus far; one was a student signed up for two courses deemed inappropriate for the student’s grade level and another student registered for five courses (at $700 to $1250 each—half up front, remember) was not enrolled at the school the student said he/she was.
Course Choice representatives have begun canvassing neighborhoods in Homer in Claiborne Parish to sign up students and offering them free iPads.
Caddo, Bossier, Webster and Claiborne are all contiguous parishes in northwest Louisiana.
Claiborne Parish school officials have issued public announcements that the local school board has no connection to the Course Choice representatives.
Meanwhile, from the House and Senate Education Committees, to borrow a line from Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence:
Silence Like a Cancer Grows.