Tuesday’s ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court that taking money from the state’s Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) is unconstitutional has thrown a monkey wrench into the plans by the Jindal administration to suck state funding from local school districts to pay for vouchers for private and virtual schools.
The ruling, by a convincing 6-1 majority, also may send more than 40 course providers in the proposed Course Choice program scurrying to find new ways to attract students (read dollars) now that the carrot of free admission may have been removed.
Anyone who still believes that the Louisiana Department of Education’s (DOE) Course Choice program is about educating Louisiana’s school children, and not about the money might wish to take a look at three advertisements currently running on Craigslist.
Actually, only one ad is necessary because the three are identical except for the locations of employment—Central Louisiana, Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
Despite a state district court ruling that found the funding method for Course Choice unconstitutional, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White plunged ahead by allowing more than 40 course choice providers to begin marketing campaigns to attract students.
Forty-two course providers were approved to offer some 1500 online, blended and face-to-face courses through the Course Choice program. Providers included K-12, Inc., Florida Virtual School, Sylvan, five public school districts and every public college and university in Louisiana.
That shouldn’t be too difficult considering there is no cost to the student and students get a free iPad, provided White and Jindal can devise some plan to get past that pesky court ruling last Nov. 30 that said Minimum Foundation Program funds could not be taken from local school districts to finance state-approved vouchers.
An online blurb by Evergreen Education Group of Durango, Colo., a private consulting firm, says that as of March 2013, eligible Louisiana students “now have the opportunity to select their own online and face-to-face courses from a wide range of private providers through the Course Choice program.”
“Act 2 (of the 2012 Legislature) presents a shift in direction for virtual schooling in Louisiana, whose Department of Education has offered supplemental online courses through its Louisiana Virtual School (LVS),” the Evergreen posting says.
Another approved provider is SmartStart Virtual Academy (SVA), a division of SmartStart Education of Raleigh, N.C., the organization that placed the Craigslist ads for sales reps for its course choice curriculum.
That’s right; sales reps, not teachers.
You won’t find the word “teachers” anywhere in the ad and the only reference to education is the line that reads: “Help change the landscape of public education in Louisiana.”
Change the landscape. Nothing about improving education. That wasn’t even an afterthought. It’s all about the money.
“…SVA has been authorized to offer FREE (emphasis theirs) courses to high school students in the state of Louisiana for graduation credit.
“SmartStart Virtual Academy is hiring outside sales representatives to sell these FREE courses to high school students and their parents,” it says.
So, how do you sell something that’s free and how does SVA profit from something that’s free?
Because (drum roll, please)…it’s not free. You, the taxpayers of Louisiana were in line to pay for the courses. Local school boards were in line to take a financial hit of $1200 per student that was to have been taken from the local MFP allocation. That’s your tax money, folks.
It was to be a win-win situation, of course, for all those course choice providers because they were to get one-half their tuition up front, no matter whether the student finished or not (and most do not). The remaining 50 percent would be paid upon the student’s successful completion of the course.
And the determination of “successful completion” would have been left entirely to the discretion of the providers, who are not required to keep attendance records.
Until Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling, that is.
“A motivated candidate (sales rep) could easily make $75,000 (or more) within the next six months,” the pie-in-the-sky ad says. “This is not an exaggeration, but rather a realistic target for the right candidate.”
The “right candidates” must have a tablet (iPad, Kindle Fire, etc.) with a data plan (which would be reimbursed after sales quotas are met).
The “right candidates” must be 18 years of age or older and must have reliable transportation so that they might be able to go door-to-door in high-poverty areas and sell parents on the concept of free courses, free internet, and a free iPad for their children.
And, oh yes, the “right candidates” must be able to pass a background check (no felonies within the past seven years). Felony convictions of eight or more years before apparently will be disregarded when hiring such highly skilled professionals.
But now, with Tuesday’s State Supreme Court ruling, Jindal, White, et al, are going to have to find another way to fund these vouchers for virtual schools, etc.
And it’s going to be interesting to see how many “course providers” become “ex-course providers” when they cut and run after seeing the Golden Goose slain by the state high court.
White, ever the loyal Broad Academy and Teach for America alumnus, kept a stiff upper lip in the wake of the ruling which in reality is a devastating setback for the administration.
“On the most important aspect of the law, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of families,” he said in a prepared statement. “The Scholarship Program will continue, and thousands of Louisiana families will continue to have the final say in where to send their children to school.”
“Nearly 93 percent of Scholarship families report that they love their school.”
We can only hope that 93 percent is not representative of the supporters who turned out at one recent rally in support of vouchers. One of the supporters who identified herself as the mother of a voucher student and who was holding a sign of support for the vouchers was in reality a DOE student worker recruited for the purpose of drumming up support for the department.
Yes, Mr. White, the voucher program may well continue. The Supreme Court, after all, did not address the constitutionality of vouchers. That was never the issue; robbing local school districts to pay for the vouchers was the only issue in question and the Supreme Court certainly made its position clear on that.
“We will work with the legislature to find another funding source to keep parents and kids in these schools.”
“Work with the legislature?”
Right now, the legislature does not appear to be in the mood to work with the administration. As one legislator said to Department of Revenue executive counsel Tim Barfield when he complained on Monday that lawmakers left the administration “out of the loop” after coming up with its own tax reform package: “Now you know how we’ve been feeling.”
“Another funding source?”
We know you’re from New York, Mr. White, so we’ll assume that you may not know that down here in the Deep South, we refer to such pseudo-bravado as whistling past the graveyard.
Oh, and by the way, don’t bother trying to blow smoke up our togas. We still remember the brash statements of this administration after the state district court ruling of last November: “A wrong-headed decision.” “We will prevail on appeal.”