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Archive for the ‘Vouchers’ Category

 

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A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of America’s Public Education (Information Age Publishing, 404 pages) is a new book by St. Tammany Parish high school English teacher Mercedes Schneider that should be required reading by both proponents and opponents of the current drift in education from public to private, from non-profit availability to all students to for-profit institutions available to the select few.

Before we get too far into our review of this book, there are two things you should know about Mercedes Schneider:

  • The emphasis is on the first syllable of Mer’ Ce-deez; she’s not a car, nor was she named for one.
  • Don’t ever make the mistake of trying to schmooze her with B.S., especially when it comes to issues involving public education. She will call you out the same way she called out an ill-prepared Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President (BESE) Chas Roemer following his debate with Diane Ravitch in March of 2013. Ravitch had already run circles around Roemer in their debate and he was simply no match for Schneider in the question-and-answer session that followed. It would have been comical had it not been for the position of such serious responsibility conferred upon Roemer by voters in his BESE district.

And when she does call you out, that caustic and at the same time, delightful St. Bernard Parish accent comes shining through like a lighthouse beacon slicing through a foggy night.

The publisher of an education online blog called At the Chalk Fence, She has moved her debate from her ongoing fight with Gov. Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White to a national forum and is now calling out such self-proclaimed education experts as former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, whom she calls “the viral host of the corporate reform agenda,” Teach for America (TFA) founder Wendy Kopp, disgraced Washington, D.C. school chancellor and later founder of StudentsFirst Michelle Rhee, vagabond school reformer and former Superintendent of Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD) Paul Vallas, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the “Big Three Foundations: Gates, Walton and Broad.”

A thorn in the side of Jindal, White, and Roemer of long-standing, she turns her attention to the national educational debate in Chronicle. With an appropriate nod to Ravitch as her mentor and the one who was always available when needed for advice, Schneider peppers her targets with a barrage of statistics that refute the unrealistic theories advanced by the Waltons, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and TFA who insist meaningful education reform can be accomplished with inexperienced teachers and administrators, for-profit charters, vouchers, and the idea that throwing money at a problem is not the answer (despite their propensity to pour billions of dollars into their own idealistic agendas—at best, a philosophical oxymoron).

A product of the St. Bernard Parish public schools (P.G.T. Beauregard High School), Schneider’s attempt to drop out of school at age 15 somehow morphed into a B.S. in secondary education (English and German), a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the State University of West Georgia, and a Ph.D. from the University of Northern Colorado.

She taught graduate-level statistics and research courses at Ball State University. It was at Ball State that she first took on the task of challenging the issues related to No Child Left Behind, teaching students “how bad an idea it was to attempt to measure teacher performance using student standardized test scores.”

In July 2007, only months before the election of Jindal as governor, she returned home and began a new job teaching high school English in St. Tammany parish.

Her introduction contains a brilliant metaphor for the corporate destruction of public education: she describes what she calls a “detailed image” of an abandoned building being imploded and collapsing upon itself. She envisions the building (public education), “not ornate, not without need for repairs, but sturdy,” as men in yellow hard hats (corporate reformers, we are told) watch, knowing what is about to transpire “because they have orchestrated it from the inside.” She describes the men as “responsible for the impending structural failure” and “who have planned the failure but are removed from its consequences.”

In her blog, she recently launched a withering attack on White’s embargo of the LEAP summary public report, saying the state superintendent had “apparently found himself in an unfamiliar fix regarding his characteristic ‘water muddying.’” She accused White of “collapsing” categories within the LEAP grading system in order to conceal variation through report “groupings” that she said concealed the precision of the standard five levels of LEAP achievement (unsatisfactory, approaching basic, basic, mastery, and advanced).

“Collapsing ‘basic,’ ‘mastery,’ and ‘advanced’ into a single, generic ‘passed’ serves to conceal achievement nuances that might make Louisiana Miracle RSD appear to be ‘less than’ locally-run districts—the ones operated by those pesky, traditional local school boards,” she said.

“After all, a test-score-deficient ‘miracle’ is harder to sell,” she said. “If the data reflect poorly on privatization, then the troubled corporate reformer could alter the data, or alter the reporting, or alter access to the reporting, or employ some combination of the three. Gotta love corporate reform ‘transparency.’”

Jindal, White and Roemer may heave a collective sigh of relief that they have been spared the glare of the spotlight in Chronicle as she concentrates her argument on the glaring weaknesses of the major education reform movers and shakers at the national level.

But perhaps they should not be too comfortable at being spared just yet.

After all, certain matter, they say, flows downhill.

A Chronicle of Echoes is a must read for anyone who is or ever claimed to be concerned about the perpetual political tampering with public education in America—by those least qualified to do so.

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“Overall, the proficiency rating for the Scholarship (voucher) Program is 41 percent. This rating is based on the percent of students who scored basic and above on standardized tests during academic year 2012-2013.”

—Report by the Legislative Auditor on the Louisiana Department of Education’s “Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program.”  (Hosanna Christian Academy in Baton Rouge, which subjects job applications to an extremely personal questionnaire based on religious believes and sexual activity and orientation while receiving $1.4 million in state funding, and New Living Word School in Ruston which the audit report says overcharged the Department of Education by more than $395,000 before subsequently being removed from the program, had proficiency ratings of 41.2 percent and 21.1 percent, respectively.)

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Give Gov. Bobby Jindal credit: He, along with a gaggle of Louisiana politicians, is all over A&E Network like…well, like a duck on a June bug over the Phil Robertson flak stemming from his comments about gays and blacks in that GQ interview. http://theadvocate.com/home/7889023-125/gov-jindal-responds-to-ae

Without going into the full story (you can get that from virtually any news source, from ABC-TV to local newspapers), suffice it to say Jindal has already spent almost as much time on this issue as on that sinkhole in Assumption Parish—or even staying at home to address other Louisiana problems, for that matter.

And while offering moral support for Robertson, Jindal has had little to say in defense of his boy-child State Superintendent of Education John White in the wake of a devastating state audit of the Jindal administration’s showcase school voucher program or of a controversial employment questionnaire required of applicants by a Baton Rouge private academy that has received more than $1.4 million in state funds.

Bernard Taylor, on the other hand, acted promptly and decisively to head off attempts by a local organization claiming connections to Jindal and White and headed by a man recently arrested for misuse of Baton Rouge city transit system funds to gain access to the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

Okay, that’s a lot to digest in one gulp so let’s take ‘em one at a time, beginning with Taylor and an outfit called Empowering Students for Success.

Empowering Students for Success http://www.educatingourfuture.org/, founded earlier this year to help prepare students for new Common Core standards, is headed up by one Montrell “MJ” McCaleb.

The organization’s web page features separate photos of McCaleb with Jindal and White and also contains an impressive list of corporate sponsors that includes Cane’s Chicken, Infiniti of Baton Rouge, Subaru of Baton Rouge, IBM, the Baton Rouge Advocate, Acura of Baton Rouge, Piccadilly Restaurants, Sprint, Coca-Cola, Kleinpeter Dairy, and the National Urban League.

The problem is McCaleb’s most recent gig was as a member of the Capital Area Transit System (CATS) board of directors until his resignation for health reasons and later arrested after being accused of using nearly $1,500 in bus system funds to pay his private satellite TV and cellphone bills over a three-month period earlier this year. http://theadvocate.com/home/7057877-125/former-cats-board-member-booked

An email sent to EBR school principals by Taylor assistant Jamie Manda, said, “It is our understanding that Montrell McCaleb may contact you or email you to request an appointment to discuss services he provides through his organization, Empowering Students.

“Dr. Taylor asked me to let all principals know that under no circumstances has he given permission for Mr. McCaleb to contact you on his behalf about his program.”

But…but…but he’s got photos of him and Jindal and him and White on his web site.

What more does a guy need to get a foot in the door?

Well, if you want to teach for Hosanna Christian Academy, you’ll need to provide quite a lot of potentially embarrassing personal information.

Besides the customary name, address, phone number, date of birth, and professional qualifications, the questionnaire also asks for the applicant’s marital status, general state of health, religious beliefs, if the applicant smokes or drinks alcohol, is sexually active, lives with a non-relative of the opposite six, and whether or not he or she engages in homosexual activity.

The application form then requires the applicant’s signature on a statement of faith based on Bible scripture. Here is the link to that questionnaire:HOSANNA EMPLOYMENT QUESTIONAIRE (Yes, we know questionnaire was misspelled, but it’s a pdf file and we couldn’t change it.)

Before we get too far into this thorny issue, let’s understand we have no objection to a church-affiliated school setting rigid standards for hiring personnel—so long as the school is completely self-sustaining and not reliant in part or in whole on public funding.

But Hosanna received more than $1.4 million in state funding in the 2012-2013 school year from the state’s scholarship (voucher) program for 284 voucher students, according to an audit of the voucher program released last week by the Legislative Auditor’s office.

That has prompted protests from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT).

LFT President Steve Monaghan said no public funding should be sent to schools “that pry into a person’s life.”

State regulations governing hiring practices of schools receiving voucher dollars are vague, perhaps deliberately so as to allow greater leeway for church affiliated schools to receive public funds but to still act like private schools.

Monaghan said he will ask the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to look into Hosanna’s hiring practices as well as those of other private schools with voucher students.

Josh LeSage, headmaster of Hosanna, said the school is within its legal rights in asking the questions of job applicants. “We are not breaking any laws,” he told the Baton Rouge Advocate.

Vouchers are offered as state aid to students attending C, D and F public school so that they may attend the private schools.

The problem with that theory is that 45 percent of Louisiana’s voucher students still attended D and F rated schools last year, according to data released last month by the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE).

The figures are incomplete because the department only released data on 20 percent of the 118 schools in the program, raising concerns about the lack of accountability in voucher schools.

Those concerns were echoed in a 27-page report by the Legislative Auditor’s office that said, among other things, “…there are no legal requirements in place to ensure nonpublic schools that participate in the (voucher) program are academically acceptable.”

The report further said the DOE review process “lacks formal criteria to ensure that schools have both the academic and physical capacity to serve the number of scholarship students they requested.”

That would reinforce reports last year by LouisianaVoice that New Living Word School in Ruston had been approved for far more vouchers than the school could accommodate. Even after the initial approval of 315 vouchers was reduced because the school had no computers are desks, it still was approved for 58 vouchers for which it was paid a whopping $447,300 by the state.

The audit report indicates that New Living Word overcharged the state by $395,520 and was subsequently removed from the scholarship program.

New Living Word was not the only one. The report says that auditors found that DOE overpaid or underpaid 48 of the 118 participating schools (41 percent) in the 2012-2013 academic year, leaving us to wonder just who is running DOE.

But rather than belabor the details of the audit, here is the link to the report so that you may read it for yourself:00036AA0

The rank and file employees of DOE are doing their best under extremely trying circumstances. Many classified employees were laid off and replaced by highly paid unclassified (non-civil service) employees brought in from out of state and who knew little to nothing about running the state’s largest agency. As a result, programs have been started, halted, re-started, changed, amended and scrapped as the young, inexperienced administrative personnel flail about in an effort to cobble together a policy for the department.

Were their efforts not so pathetic and wasteful, it would be light comedy to watch. Instead, John White and his minions are nothing short of tragic, pitiful excuses of pseudo educators who know only how to drive Enterprise rental Escalades and Jeep Cherokees on the state dime 24/7.

And while White himself must ultimately shoulder the blame for the procedural morass the department has become under his watch, it is David “Lefty” Lefkowith who is the poster child for all that is wrong with the voucher system. That is, after all, his job at DOE: he is in charge of the program—when he’s not jetting back and forth between Baton Rouge and his home in Los Angeles.

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The results of the 5th District congressional race are in and the message has been sent loud and clear—surely loud enough to be heard in Baton Rouge.

With political newcomer Vance McAllister walloping State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), the heir-apparent to Rodney Alexander’s 5th District seat not by a comfortable but by an astounding and resounding 60-40 margin (an actual vote count of 54,449 to 36,837), the Louisiana Tea Party and Bobby Jindal have to be reeling and wondering what the hell happened. And Riser especially has to be feeling quite flummoxed and embarrassed at this juncture—particularly given the fact that he could muster only 3,800 more votes than he got in the Oct. 19 primary while McAllister pulled in an additional 36,000 votes, a margin of nearly 10-1 in the number of votes gained.

Actually, when you break it all down, there was more than one message sent in this election that Riser entered as the odds-on favorite to walk into office on the strength of the fast one that the Jindalites tried to pull off, not the least of which is that the Duck Dynasty’s political clout appeared to eclipse that of the governor (Gotta give credit where it’s due). Jindal clumsily overplayed his hand when he maneuvered Alexander into “retiring” halfway into this two-year term of office so that he could take a cushy state job as head of the Louisiana Office of Veterans Affairs at $130,000 per year, a job that stands to boost his state pension (he was a state legislator before being elected to Congress) from about $7,500 per year to something north of $80,000 per annum.

Then, as part of the bargain, Riser formally announced the day after Alexander’s announcement that he would seek the position and miracle of miracles, large—no huge—Riser campaign signs literally (as in the day after Riser’s announcement) appeared overnight in Ruston. Political pundits all over the state all but conceded the seat to Riser but then who would bet against him given the fact the job was all but handed to him on a platter? Or so it seemed at the time.

One message was that voters resent being taken for granted, considered a pesky afterthought as it were. Since when does the coronation precede the decision of the electorate in this country? As comic Ron White is fond of saying, you can’t fix stupid and assuming the job was his by Divine Right was stupid—even if that Divine Right was the coveted Jindal anointment.

A second lesson that should sink in on the fourth floor of the State Capitol: instead of flitting around the country like a hummingbird on crack, perhaps Jindal should stay home and do the job to which he was elected—you know, Bobby, that of governor, the job you said you wanted. Forget Iowa. Forget New Hampshire. Forget Faux News. Forget those op-eds for the Washington Post. Do your damned job. Don’t worry about Obama; my grandfather always told me, “If you do your job and quit worrying about the other fellow doing his, you’ll find your own path much easier to walk.” Being absent from the state the equivalent of two of the first 10 months of the year just doesn’t cut it when there is plenty to do right here.

And while Riser was wearing his “guns for felons” NRA mantle like the breastplate of righteousness (Isaiah 59:17), Vance McAllister had the guts look to look beyond that easy position and to say that Medicaid should be extended in Louisiana because of the 400,000 citizens of this state who have no health insurance. And, the message that was apparently lost on Jindal, Riser and the rest of the Tea partiers, is that not all of those are deadbeats; many of them are the working poor—those working but earning too little to afford health care.

And they vote.

A lesson that the remaining 143 members of the Louisiana Legislature might do well to ponder: Despite recent evidence to the contrary, Louisiana apparently is not for sale. When the light is shone on privatization, campaign contributions, health care, inept and unqualified appointees such as Superintendent of Education John White and general mismanagement of the state’s finances, people don’t like what they’re seeing.

As the count mounted Saturday night, two stars—that of Neil Riser’s hopes to move on to Washington and that of Jindal’s already fading aspirations of occupying the White House—were for all intents, snuffed out, obliterated, imploded like a supernova. Jindal, instead of being sought after by the right wing talking head zealots, should now be shunned given that he can’t even deliver votes for a congressional candidate (or for a Republican candidate for governor of Virginia).

Legislators need to take a long, hard look at Jindal’s record of late. It’s really not all that impressive. He has lost court case after court case over retirement reform, vouchers, budgetary matters and public records even as he paid a single attorney more than a million dollars to defend those dogs. The FBI is looking into contract irregularities between DHS and CNSI. He fires anyone who disagrees with him, including members of a levee board who wanted to hold oil companies accountable for the egregious coastal erosion so that he could protect big oil (but he can’t fire the local political leaders in Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes who followed with litigation of their own).

Those legislators would do well to understand that we the citizens of Louisiana are starting to take an interest in what goes on in Baton Rouge. Using campaign funds for such things as installment payments, gasoline and insurance on personal vehicles, paying for “campaign work” when there was no campaign, paying for roof repairs, purchasing LSU football tickets and pricey tabs in the Senate dining hall are perks not available to the great unwashed and we kind of resent that abuse. And make no mistake about it, it is abuse. You are not royalty; you work for us. Never forget that.

Accepting a hundred or so contributions from political action committees tends to drown out the voices of the school teacher, the retail store clerk, the truck driver, and hundreds of thousands of others who cannot afford to go up against those well-heeled corporate lobbyists who ply lawmakers with meals during the legislative session each year. It raises the question of just whom do you represent, the voters or the fat cats who pour money into your campaign so that they will have your ear when push comes to shove in Baton Rouge on key issues while the interests of those who elected you are ignored?

And finally, to Vance McAllister: Congratulations. Enjoy the moment because once you take office, you will be inside the Beltway and somehow that becomes intoxicating and those who go there with good intentions often fall victim to the lure of the siren song of power and influence.

Don’t let that happen because we will be watching and if you screw up, LouisianaVoice will treat you no differently than it treats any other crooked politician (I hate redundancy) who violates the public trust.

Perhaps it is fitting in this, the 100th anniversary of Sam Rayburn’s taking the oath of office in 1913 to begin his 48-year tenure in Congress, that we give McAllister the same advice Rayburn’s father gave him as he departed Texas for Washington following his first election:

Be a man.

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If you like the way Mack Ford treated and taught the children at New Bethany Home for Boys and Girls in Arcadia, you’ll love the education reforms being put in place for Louisiana by Gov. Bobby Jindal, Superintendent of Education John White and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) President Chas Roemer.

Though many of the students at New Bethany never received their high school diplomas as promised, Ford employed the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum for whatever teaching that occurred at the facility.

And though the home closed more than a decade ago, students’ claims of beatings and rapes at New Bethany recently resurfaced when it was learned that two former board members—Ford’s son-in-law and grandson, Timothy Johnson and Jonathan Johnson, respectively— were working in the campaign of 5th District congressional candidate State Sen. Neil Riser, the candidate who is Jindal’s personal choice.

On Tuesday, Jonathan Johnson, Ford’s grandson who has worked for retiring 5th District Congressman Rodney Alexander since 2003 and who now works for Riser as an unpaid volunteer, was asked about the propriety of Riser’s allowing two men tainted by the reports of beatings and rapes at New Bethany. “This doesn’t involve him (Riser),” he said.

Jonathan Johnson never denied the beatings and rapes occurred. Instead, he said, “I was twelve when that happened.” He also denied that he ever served on the New Bethany board. But minutes of a board meeting on June 30, 2001, obtained by LouisianaVoice indicate otherwise.

Called for the purpose of “disposing of properties owned and operated by New Bethany Home for Girls, Inc.,” the minutes identify board members “acting on behalf of New Bethany Home for Girls, Inc.” They include Timothy Johnson (Jonathan Johnson’s father and Mack Ford’s son-in-law), Jonathan Johnson, Maxine Ford, Douglas Gilmore and Thelma Ford (Mack Ford’s wife and the board’s vice president and secretary).

As for the manner in which the property of New Bethany Home for Girls, Inc., was disposed of, records on file in the Bienville Parish Courthouse indicate little, if anything was actually liquidated. Instead, records show the home’s property was simply transferred to New Bethany Baptist Church—a paper transaction that kept control of the property in Ford’s name.

New Bethany Baptist Church is in the New Bethany Home for Girls compound, situated inside a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Former residents of New Bethany said only residents and staff members—no outsiders—ever attended New Bethany Baptist Church.

And while the home officially closed its doors in 1998 (though some claim that a few girls remained there until 2004), LouisianaVoice found several Independent Fundamental Baptist churches across the country (including at least one in Louisiana) that continued providing financial support for Ford’s “ministries” long after the home closed and services at New Bethany Baptist Church were no more.

Among those churches which continued sending financial assistance to Ford:

  • Calvary Baptist Church, Sulphur, Louisiana, W.T. Darnell, pastor;
  • New Testament Baptist Church, Centralia, Illinois, Don Smith, pastor;
  • Faith Baptist Church, Spokane, Missouri, James Mohler, pastor;
  • Berean Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Ronnie Baity, pastor;
  • Gloryland Baptist Church, Lincolnton, North Carolina, Macon Ballard, pastor.

Baity, asked why his church continues to send money to a “mission” that no longer exists, said, “How this church spends its money is none of your business since you don’t help pay the bills.”

And though this is by no means an indictment of all church-affiliated schools, three traits prominent among many—far too many—fundamental Christian schools, including New Bethany, are child abuse, sexual abuse and fundamental Christian textbooks like the ACE curriculum, A Beka Book, and Bob Jones University (BJU) Press that teach such interesting things as:

  • Solar fusion is a myth;
  • A Japanese whaling boat found a live dinosaur;
  • Humans and dinosaurs co-existed;
  • The earth is only 10,000 years old;
  • The Ku Klux Klan tried to be a means of reform in some areas of the country;
  • God used the “Trail of Tears” as a means to bring many American Indians to Christ;
  • It cannot be shown scientifically that man-made pollutants will one day reduce the depth of the atmosphere’s ozone layer;
  • God has provided certain checks and balances in creation to prevent many of the global upsets predicted by environmentalists;
  • The Great Depression was exaggerated by propagandists, including John Steinbeck, to promote a socialist agenda;
  • Only 10 percent of Africans can read or write because Christian mission schools have been shut down by communists;
  • Unions have always been plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created.

The list of schools participating in the 2013-2014 Louisiana Scholarship Programs is peppered with church-affiliated schools, some two dozen of which employ one or more of the three curriculums cited earlier. Each was state approved by BESE, White and by virtue of his support of White and Roemer, Jindal.

  • Delhi Charter School: Until public opinion (and a threat of a lawsuit by the ACLU), Delhi Charter instituted a policy of forcing a female student to take pregnancy tests if the school suspected she might be pregnant. The policy was adopted after a 17-year-old student became pregnant by a school football player and was asked to leave the school. The boy was subjected to no disciplinary action.
  • Claiborne Christian School, West Monroe: Scientists are “sinful men” who exclude God in explaining the world. “Any stories that go against a biblical view of live in this series of books are skipped and are not read in the class.”
  • Faith Academy, Gonzales: Employs ACE textbooks. Students “defend creationism through evidence presented by the Bible verses (sic) traditional scientific theory.”
  • Northeast Baptist School, West Monroe: Uses A Beka and BJU science textbooks.
  • Union Christian Academy, Farmerville: Relies “heavily” on the BJU curriculum, as well as “selected materials that have been approved by the administration.”
  • Victory Christian Academy, Metairie: Uses A Beka and BJU curricula.
  • Northlake Christian Elementary School, Covington: Teaches from A Beka materials.
  • Northlake Christian High School, Covington: Student handbook includes policy against admitting prospective students and staff who do not meet “Biblical standards.”
  • Gethsemane Christian Academy, Lafayette: Uses ACE, A Beka and BJU curriculum.
  • Jehovah-Jireh Christian Academy, Baton Rouge: Uses A Beka curriculum.
  • Greater Mt. Olive Christian Academy, Baton Rouge: Uses A Beka curriculum.
  • Faith Christian Academy, Marrero: Uses A Beka curriculum.
  • Lafayette Christian Academy, Lafayette: Uses BJU and A Beka curricula.
  • Cenla Christian Academy, Pineville: Uses BJU and A Beka curricula.
  • Family Worship Christian Academy, Opelousas: employs A Beka curriculum.
  • Trinity Christian Academy, Zachary: uses A Beka for high school science.
  • Old Bethel Christian Academy, Clark: Uses A Beka curriculum.
  • Eternity Christian Academy, Westlake: uses ACE curriculum.

So while Jindal bemoans “government control” of Louisiana’s education system, he apparently has no problem with fundamental church schools gaining control of students’ minds through curricula that conflict with scientific knowledge—and doing it with state funding.

Anyone who has the ability to see through Jindal’s “reform” package has to be asking whatever happened to the doctrine of separation of church and state.

And that doctrine appears to be the only real difference between the Mack Fords and Lester Roloffs of the world, who steadfastly refused state funding to avoid the necessity of state licensing (and state supervision) and those Christian schools who crowd their way to the public trough for a share of state funding to support their curricula that border on mind control.

Can anyone say “Stepford students?”

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Consolidation of power or rats deserting sinking ship?

Gov. Bobby Jindal appears to be consolidating his power base as he moves toward his final two years in office by positioning key allies as caretakers to watch the store in his four-year hiatus—a break he will no doubt us to seek higher office of latch on with some right wing think tank.

What Jindal is doing in the placement of former Chief of Staff Steve Waguespack as president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and Division of Administration spokesman Michael DiResto with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) as senior vice president for economic competitiveness is eerily similar to Huey Long’s lining up all his toadies before moving from the governor’s office to the U.S. Senate.

He earlier had helped get Scott Angelle, who almost certainly would have been replaced as Secretary of Natural Resources by Jindal’s successor, elected to the Public Service Commission and only recently he orchestrated the “retirement” of Congressman Rodney Alexander by placing him in a $130,000-a-year job as head of Veterans Affairs, a job, which if he remains three years, will boost his state retirement from about $7,500 to $82,000 per year.

By convincing Alexander to hang up his congressional spurs, Jindal opened the door (he hopes) for State Sen. Neil Riser to move into Alexander’s former Fifth District slot. That little coup may yet backfire as there has already been considerable pushback to that blatant back room deal.

Though BRAC did not say so, an additional duty for DiResto might be to help identify and sanction “legitimate” news media representatives. Nearly two years ago, DiResto arbitrarily decided that our sister organization, Capitol News Service, was not “legitimate.” That was the reason he gave—before relenting more than an hour later—for denying a copy of Jindal’s executive budget to CNS.

More lucrative work for Faircloth?

Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White’s ill-fated voucher plan has run into another obstacle in the form of a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit to block vouchers in 22 of 34 parish school systems currently under federal desegregation orders.

It’s not the first time this issue has come up but the filing of the lawsuit adds a new dimension to the voucher controversy and it could be a new opportunity for Jindal’s favorite lawyer Jimmy Faircloth.

Financial windfalls don’t come along very often—unless you are Faircloth, who has already received some $1.1 million in fees while unsuccessfully defending the administration on a number of issues ranging from vouchers to retirement to lack of transparency in the selection of a new LSU president.

Now he has a golden opportunity to once again start the legal meter running.

At this rate, he could retire when Jindal leaves office.

Jindal invests in state retirement system even as he trashes its stability

You may remember all the hoopla about the state’s busted retirement systems. Jindal paraded administrative appointive officials before legislative committees to sound the alarm that the retirement systems were broke, kaput, bankrupt, broken and otherwise unsalvageable—unless the legislature approved Jindal’s radical program for state pension reform. That the “reforms” would have been devastating to state employees and would violate employee contracts was besides the point.

This was one of the dogs that Faircloth was asked to defend in state court. And it was one of several cases in which Faircloth was shot down in flames.

But wait! Even as the retirement systems were circling the drain (according to Jindal), Jindal was surreptitiously buying back his retirement from his prior service with the state in order to increase his own state pension.

Kinda makes you wonder  if he really believed his own Chicken Little falling sky rhetoric, doesn’t it?

Republican indignation over voucher suit

Hayride blog columnist Kevin Kane dutifully parroted the administration line that it was such a shame to trap kids in lousy schools.

Jindal called the lawsuit “shameful,” and said it was imperative to give every child, “no matter their race or their income, the opportunity to get a great education.”

It certainly is interesting to see these elitist types become so concerned with the education of black children so late in the day.

Katrina Obama’s fault, Louisiana GOP poll shows

A recent poll, admittedly conducted by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, is one of those surveys that Jindal has chosen not to trumpet as proof that he’s doing a “heckuva job.”

The poll showed that 29 percent of state Republicans said that President Obama was responsible for the poor federal response to Hurricane Katrina which devastated New Orleans eight years ago tomorrow (Aug. 29).

Obama may be many things—indecisive, weak, occasionally confused—but one thing he was not, was president. He was a freshman in the U.S. Senate, still three years away from being elected president.

At least Timmy Teepell didn’t try to saddle Obama with the Katrina debacle in his infamous tweet exchange with Baton Rouge blogger Bob Mann recently.

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Our brain-dead legislature just doesn’t get it.

The House earlier this month approved and sent to the Senate HB 650 which calls for reorganization of the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE).

The vote was 57-39 (with nine not voting), with an assortment of oblivious characters who have their collective heads where only their proctologists can find them.

Why, you ask?

Simple. Superintendent of Education John White has been illegally running DOE since he arbitrarily “reorganized” the department nearly a year ago—months before House approval of the reorganization bill.

Apparently it’s not enough that sweeping educational “reforms” were approved last year that sent the entire department spiraling into the depths of scandal (see Course Choice, FastPath, Fast Start, Rod Paige, etc.), botched teacher evaluations (see Value Added Model), failure (see RSD school grades), potential violations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (see InBloom, Agilix, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdock, News Corp., Wireless Generation, etc.), six-figure salaries for out-of-state appointees with little to no educational experience and no willingness to even register their cars in Louisiana or get Louisiana driver’s licenses (see past, present and future John White appointees), and numerous legal setbacks (see voucher funding, public records lawsuits).

White came into office nearly 18 months ago preaching failure and he has certainly illustrated that concept in crystal clear, unmistakable clarity.

Last July 9, White issued a DOE news release in which he announced the appointment of a team of District Support and Network Leaders—a major reorganization implemented a month after adjournment of the legislative session and which put the proverbial cart well ahead of the horse.

And apparently few in the legislature took notice, not even on April 11 of this year when Deputy Superintendent of Policy Erin Bendily told the House Education Committee that the department was still operating under the old structure as approved by previous legislation as Senate bill 80 (Act 302) of 2011.

Among those either blissfully ignorant (as in the case of Ruston Republican Rob Shadoin, who declined to comment on the DOE violation of student and teacher privacy laws or on the fraudulent Course Choice registrations because he did not know enough about the issues) or who simply did not care were 14 members of the House Education Committee.

The only Education Committee members voting against HB 650 were Democrats John Bel Edwards of Amite, Edward Price of Gonzales, Pat Smith and Alfred Williams, both of Baton Rouge.

Among the changes implemented by White sans legislative approval:

• A new organizational chart which has been in place since Sept. 10, 2012;

• Abolishment of the offices of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Literacy, College and Career Readiness, Departmental Support and Innovation;

• Addition of five Network Leaders at salaries of $130,000 and up (not part of the DOE organizational chart approved by the legislature during the administration of former Superintendent Paul Pastorek).

An open letter to state senators written “on behalf of concerned DOE employees” said the department “has recently seen an explosion in the number of unclassified staff.”

The letter said a large number of the new hires have “minimal experience” in the education field and bring little practical experience and seem not to be committed to long-term stays in Louisiana.

“At the same time, DOE is systematically eliminating classified personnel with substantially more experienced, more local knowledge, and more local commitment. This strategy costs the state significant money, as new unclassified hires have frequently been paid substantially more than classified staff that have performed largely the same work,” it said.

“The classified staff (who) have been affected are primarily Louisiana citizens who have served the people of this state competently and are actively registered voters in their respective communities.

“They are being replaced by persons, primarily from out-of-state, with lesser experience, fewer credentials, and less dedication, diligence and competence. We do not believe that this personnel strategy will serve the long-term best interests of Louisiana schools and districts and we urge the (Senate Education) Committee to seek further information on the number and responsibilities of unclassified staff before proceeding with this bill,” the letter said.

The letter also expressed “serious concerns” regarding the number of educational functions and initiatives which are being stricken from the previous legislation and not specifically enumerated in HB 650.

“These include dropout prevention, federal programs, nutritional programs, teacher certification, required subject matter content and professional development.

“The only thing being added is the Office of District Support. Yet, its responsibilities are very vaguely worded and do not seem to explicitly include the programs being removed,” it said.

Moreover, it said, the functions of the Office of District Support are defined as serving districts’ lowest-performing schools. “Is DOE saying that services will be cut to all schools that are not the lowest-performing?” the letter asks. “The responsibility for supervising the quality of all programs in every school district is a duty of the Louisiana Department of Education.

“We urge the committee to look very closely at what DOE is hoping to achieve with this reorganization and that the Legislature hold DOE to strict accountability. DOE has not always acted in good faith during reorganization,” the letter said.

House members voting for HB 650, largely regarded as a power grab attempt by White and Gov. Jindal, were:

Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles); Bryan Adams (R-Gretna); John Anders (D-Vidalia); Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans); Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia); John Berthelot (R-Gonzales); Robert Billiot (D-Westwego); Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette); Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans); Chris Broadwater (R-Hammond); Richard Burford (R-Stonewall); Henry Burns (R-Haughton); Timothy Burns (R-Mandeville); Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport); Stephen Carter (R-Baton Rouge); Simone Champagne (R-Erath); Charles Chaney (R-Rayville); Patrick Connick (R-Marrero); Gregory Cromer (R-Slidell); Michael Danahay (D-Sulphur); Gordon Dove (R-Houma); Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro); Franklin Foil (R-Baton Rouge); Raymond Garofalo Jr. (R-Chalmette); Jerry Gisclair (D-Larose); Hunter Greene (R-Baton Rouge); Lance Harris (R-Alexandria); Lowell Hazel (R-Pineville); Cameron Henry (R-Metairie); Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe); Paul Hollis (R-Covington); Mike Huval (R-Breaux Bridge); Barry Ivey (R-Baton Rouge); Patrick Jefferson (D-homer); Nancy Landry (R-Lafayette, who likes to know if teachers take annual or sick leave to come to Baton Rouge); Christopher Leonard (R-Belle Chasse); Joseph Lopinto III (R-Metairie); Nick Lorusso (R-New Orleans); Jay Morris (R-Monroe); Stephen Ortego (D-Carencro); Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell); Erich Ponti (R-Baton Rouge); Stephen Pugh (R-Ponchatoula); Steve Pylant (R-Winnsboro, who wants to force high school seniors to take at least one Course Choice course as a prerequisite to graduation—30,000 graduating seniors at $700 to $1200 tuition per course; do the math); Eugene Reynolds (D-Minden); Jerome Richard (I-Thibodaux); Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette); Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales); John Schroder (R-Covington); Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport); Rob Shadoin (R-Ruston); Karen St. Germain (D-Plaquemine); Julie Stokes (R-Metairie); Kirk Talbot (R-River Ridge); Major Thibaut (D-New Roads); Jeff Thompson (R-Bossier City), and Lenar Whitney (R-Houma).

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