BATON ROUGE (CNS)—The Walton Family Foundation, already the largest single donor to Teach for America (TFA), recently committed an additional $20 million to recruit, train and place an another 4,000 unqualified teachers in America’s classrooms.
That includes $3 million to the New Orleans region, administered by one Kira Orange Jones who sits on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) which just happens to be the agency that contracts with TFA for those novice teachers.
In case you live in a cave, the Walton Family Foundation is the benevolent offshoot of Wal-Mart, one of the most successful retail businesses in American history but which is alone responsible for the demise of more neighborhood mom and pop stores than any one factor since the Great Depression—all while enjoying the benefit of almost $100 million in various tax breaks in 19 Louisiana cities, according to incomplete figures that do not include newer state stores.
More on that later.
The Louisiana Board of Ethics, apparently kept in the dark as to Jones’ title of Executive Director of the New Orleans TFA regional office, ruled that her serving on BESE was not a conflict because her salary was not affected by the contracts with the state.
The ethics board member—its vice chairman—who lulled the board into believing she was a mere rank and file employee of TFA, has since resigned after it was revealed that he had his own conflict as a legal counsel for Tulane University which also had a contract with TFA.
LouisianaVoice recently obtained through a public records request of the Department of Education (DOE) copies of three separate contracts between DOE’s Recovery School District (RSD) and TFA. Two of those contracts, dated in September of 2009 and 2011, were signed by Kira Orange Jones, complete with the notation beneath her signature identifying her as “Executive Director.”
Exercising a bit more caution in 2012, the contract was signed by Michael Tipton, Jones’ boss.
Those contracts, by the way, called for the state to pay TFA up to $5,000 per teacher provided for RSD—up to 40 teachers—and RSD would then be required to pay their salaries.
TFA alumnus Jack Carey, vice president of the greater New Orleans program said the money would fund more than 500 positions in the 2013 to 2015 school years, though with the state paying that generous “finder’s fee,” and local school boards paying the salaries, it’s rather difficult to imagine why an additional $3 million is needed other than to surmise the whole TFA thing is one gigantic scam designed to line someone’s pockets. That “someone” would be someone other than Louisiana teachers who have invested thousands of dollars on bachelor’s, master’s, and plus-30s and even Ph.Ds., but suddenly find themselves taking a back seat to those who train for five weeks over the summer to become teachers.
But it’s not only established teachers who take a dim view of TFA. Many of TFA’s own alumni are critical of the organization to which they once pledged their loyalty.
One former TFA teacher now says that the organization glosses over issues of race and inequality but “fits very nicely into an overall strategy of privatizing education and diminishing critical thinking.”
Whenever a TFA teacher begins to questions the motives and intent of the program, “The staff would get together and talk about how to handle these people,” another former TFA member says. “They’d plunk him down with groups of ‘stronger corps members’ to improve his attitude” by “trying to further indoctrinate others and myself.”
Yet another dissident said he no longer recognized TFA. “All I see is a bunch of liars who are getting themselves rich and powerful. They just can’t stop lying.” He added that TFA refuses to recognize established evidence that a child’s socioeconomic level at birth better predicts his future tax bracket and educational attainment than how well her teachers prepare him for standardized tests.
“We really get to know what schools across our community need in the way of high-quality teachers,” Carey said, “and we work with them over the course of a year to understand their needs and help make great matches.”
Wow. How noble.
But perhaps Mr. Carey has not taken a trip down to the Ninth Ward to George Washington Carver High School.
Has Kira Orange Jones toured Carver High?
Washington Carver High School is the alma mater of Marshall Faulk, Heisman Trophy runner-up at San Diego State and all-pro running back for the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams (where he won a Super Bowl).
But you’d never know it.
Eight years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the entire Ninth Ward, the school still has not been rebuilt. Today, it consists entirely of T-buildings. Superintendent of Education John White’s annual report, released last February, lists Carver as among the schools scheduled for new construction. Even though the proposed construction is to be funded by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), no steps have actually been taken to start construction other than the naming of two architectural firms. No contractor, though, eight years post-Katrina.
The football weight room is pathetic, consisting of three or four weight benches any other school would have thrown out years ago. There is no cover for the foam padding on the benches—padding that is crumbling. And the players’ lockers consist of plastic bins scattered across the floor—easy pickings for anyone who wanted to steal a watch or an i-Pod.
No one visiting the T-building weight room would ever believe that an NFL Super Bowl player once escaped the Desire Housing Project by playing his high school ball here.
Despite these conditions, George Washington Carver made it to the quarter-final round of the state high school football playoffs last year.
But far worse than the deplorable athletic facilities eight years post-Katrina is the fact that incredulous as it may sound, the school has no library.
Let that sink in. There is a public high school in Louisiana today that does not have a library.
Yet John White and Bobby Jindal and BESE President Chas Roemer would have us believe they’re all about education.
Gov. Jindal, Superintendent White, Chas Roemer, BESE member/TFA Director Kira Jones: what say you to the revelation that a public high school has allowed to exist under your watch that has no library? A school comprised exclusively of T-buildings? We’d love to hear your take on this. But please don’t hide behind Kyle Plotkin or your respective public relations sycophants in your response. (Surely is quiet; are those crickets we hear chirping?)
And so the Walton Family Foundation goes about with its press releases that glorify its generosity on behalf of education.
In truth, the Walton Family Foundation is all about the Waltons. TFA is simply the vehicle by which the Waltons try to put on their civic face. They are probably among the least civic minded of all.
Remember those patriotic television ads of a few years back when Wal-Mart was all about “American made” products? How long has it been since you’ve seen one of those ads? But we do hear about Bangladesh sweat shops collapsing on workers even as they turn out products for Wal-Mart.
And we hear plenty about how Wal-Mart exploits its U.S. workers with low wages and no benefits—all so it can keep corporate earnings up and competition out.
Wal-Mart is all about tax credits and making money. Here are 20 examples of economic development subsidies in 19 Louisiana cities, subsidies that total $96.5 million (the figures are probably higher because it’s virtually impossible to get updated figures from the Louisiana Department of Economic Development):
- Abbeville: $1.665 million;
- Alexandria: $2.5 million;
- Bossier City: $1.7 million;
- East Baton Rouge: $1.385 million;
- Hammond: $1.365 million;
- Monroe (Supercenter): $840,000;
- Monroe (former discount store) $3.09 million;
- Natchitoches: $1.5 million;
- New Orleans: $7 million (estimate);
- Opelousas (distribution center): $33 million;
- Port Allen: $1 million;
- Robert (distribution center): more than $21 million;
- Ruston: more than $947,000;
- Shreveport: $6.3 million;
- St. Martinville: $3.725 million;
- Sulphur: $1.8 million;
- Vidalia: up to $1.65 million.
Wal-Mart’s expansion has been made possible to a large extent by the generous use of public money. This includes more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments, though the precise figures aren’t always available.
That’s because in Ruston, for example, the total subsidy was more than $947,000. That included a $647,000 enterprise zone tax break, plus $300,000 from the city in infrastructure improvements around the site through a state grant. But the city also made $12 million in road improvements throughout the area through a sales tax increment financing district. But since the district includes neighboring developments and because other area businesses benefitted from the road improvements, the benefits to Wal-Mart were impossible to quantify.
In addition, Louisiana Wal-Mart stores also receive about $5.4 million a year from a state policy that allows stories to keep a portion of the sales tax they collect from customers.
So, while the Walton Family Foundation gives itself a metaphoric pat on the back with its news release trumpeting its $20 million gift to TFA ($3 million allocated to Louisiana), it conveniently ignores how it has managed more than a billion dollars in tax dodges (nearly $100 million in Louisiana)—money that could have been used to support education.
Like perhaps permanent buildings, including a library, at George Washington Carver High School.