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Archive for the ‘BESE’ Category

That ugly scene in which a Sterlington High School coach goaded a 16-year-old student into drinking vodka straight from a bottle and then physically attacked the youth, hitting him with his fists in the chest and face seems to have involved about half the officialdom of Ouachita Parish and maybe even a few folks from a neighboring parish.

Before taking this narrative any further, it’s important to remain focused on the primary issue because there are a lot of peripheral issues that come into play in its telling and each, in its own way, is an integral part of the whole.

In a nutshell, here is what happened:

Jack Goode, a coach, a teacher, an adult responsible for educating and molding the lives of young people, allowed teenagers who came to him for more beer after their supply ran out to handle an AR-10 assault rifle and then forced a 16-year-old, Chandler Jones, to drink vodka against his wishes, called him a p***y when he got sick from the booze and threw up, threatened to beat the youth like his (Goode’s) own father never had, then did so, striking him in the chest and face, and threatened to kill him, according to testimony given at an LSPC hearing.

Goode subsequently attacked Chandler Jones, throwing him down in a ditch while threatening to kill the youth and later appeared on a motorcycle at the home where the teenagers were partying and cut do-nuts in the lawn.

Goode was arrested on cruelty to a juvenile and for contributing to the delinquency of a minor but Geary Aycock, the district attorney’s chief felony prosecutor, inexplicably reduced the charges to simple battery and Goode was sentenced to pay a $300 fine, a sentence that was subsequently suspended, and he was placed on unsupervised probation. A condition of his probation was that he would not be able to seek employment at Sterlington High School nor Sterlington Junior High School. That wording is noteworthy because is said nothing about his working at other schools in Ouachita Parish.

Chandler’s mother, Haley Jones, a deputy sheriff, was subsequently accused of causing damage to her patrol car, demoted to radio duty and pushed to the point of resigning her job when she wasn’t even at the scene the night of the April 2017 incident. The pressure, she said, was because her father-in-law, a retired state trooper, posted comments about the incident on Facebook and Sheriff Jay Russell found his comments objectionable.

Her immediate supervisor was demoted from captain to lieutenant in the wake of the brawl triggered by an intoxicated high school coach when he remained with Mrs. Jones after she learned that her son had been attacked by Goode because he felt she was too distraught to be alone.

The deputy who conducted the investigation of the attack on Chandler Jones by Goode received a verbal reprimand.

Chandler’s dad, a Louisiana state trooper was initially recommended for a 40-hour suspension for interfering with the sheriff’s department’s investigation but had that reduced to 12 hours by LSP Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves, which was in turn upheld by the LSPC. The trooper, Joseph Jones (Chandler’s father), was off-duty, not in uniform nor was he in a state police vehicle when he arrived at Goode’s home, though he did admit he had drunk “eight to 10 beers” prior to hearing of the incident with his son. He also admitted to using profanity and offered to drop criminal charges against Goode if the coach would take the matter into a nearby field to handle the matter like men.

You can go HERE and HERE to READ REPORTER Zach Parker’s entire story of the incident and the LSPC hearing in the Ouachita Citizen.

All of which brings us to these two very obvious questions which must remain the center of the discussion after all else is said and done and which must be answered by the proper authorities:

How is it that Jack Goode is now back in a classroom just down the road from Sterlington at West Monroe High School (in Ouachita Parish) teaching children?

For the answer, LouisianaVoice did a little investigation of our own and what we found was certainly interesting, if not conclusive.

It seems that Jack Goode is a native of Richland Parish.

His mother, Linda Goode, is Assistant Administrator at Richland Parish Hospital in Delhi.

She is a MEMBER of the hospital’s Advisory Committee and Community Partners for the Richland Parish School-Based Health Center for the Delhi senior and high schools.

State Sen. Francis Thompson also is a MEMBER of that same committee.

Linda Goode made five CONTRIBUTIONS of $200 each to Thompson’s political campaigns between 2010 and 2017 and son Jack Goode chipped in another $200 in 2014.

As we said, those facts, while intriguing, are not conclusive, so LouisianaVoice sent the following email to Thompson Thursday at 4:14 p.m.:

Senator, did you intervene or otherwise have any input, influence, or involvement in the decision by the Ouachita Parish School Board to hire Jack Goode to a teaching position at West Monroe High School after he agreed to resign from his teaching/coaching position at Sterlington High School as a result his providing alcohol for and fighting with a 16-year-old student in April 2017?

Did you discuss the status of Jack Goode with anyone either:

  • In the office of the Ouachita Parish District Attorney,
  • At the Ouachita Parish School Board office, including but not limited to School Board President Jerry Hicks,
  • Any official of West Monroe High School, or
  • Any individual associated with the Louisiana State Police?

Did anyone, including Jack or Emily Goode or Linda Goode, ever contact you on behalf of Jack Goode as a result of the altercation between juvenile Chandler Jones and Jack Goode?

On Friday at 9:46 a.m., we received this one-word response from Thompson through his Delhi Senate office:

From: Thompson, Sen. Francis (District Office) <thompsof@legis.la.gov>
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2018 9:46 AM
To: ‘Tom Aswell’ 
Subject: RE: JACK GOODE

No.

Perhaps this is an issue the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education might wish to take up.

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The key is to listen to what they don’t say.

Whenever an elected official or bureaucrat starts talking, especially if he’s boasting of some accomplishment, it’s important that you tune out what he says and listen closely to what’s not being said. Always.

A case in point is information fed to the public by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) this week.

What they said: LDOE issued a glowing news release announcing that the Louisiana high school graduation rate for the class of 2017 was a record 78.1 percent, skyrocketing from the 77 percent of 2016.

What they didn’t say: The Louisiana high school graduation rate is 8th lowest in the nation, higher than Mississippi (4th lowest) and New Mexico (the lowest) but lower than Florida (9th lowest), Alabama (3rd highest), Arkansas (25th highest), Tennessee (9th highest), Oklahoma (21st lowest), and West Virginia (18th highest).

What they said: Students from low-income families graduated at a rate of 72.6 percent, in increase from 71.5 percent in 2016.

What they didn’t say: Speaking of low-income, the median salary for school teachers in Louisiana was 5th lowest in the country—$48,307, compared to the national median salary of $57,949. Mississippi is at rock bottom with a medial salary of $30,070 for all workers.

What Superintendent of Education John White said: “Not only is the state making progress but historically disadvantaged populations are also making progress at a rate that is greater than the state average.”

What he didn’t say: The per pupil expenditure of $12,153 is right in the middle of the pack at 25th highest, which can be attributed in large part to the flow of funding into charter and virtual schools and to top-heavy salaries in the Claiborne Building (headquarters for the Department of Education) where there are 37 political appointees knocking down an average of $127,000 per year.

What he said: “We know our graduation rate needs to be better.”

What he didn’t say: “At least we’re not Mississippi.”

 

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This should be the mother of all embarrassments for the legislature…but it won’t be.

I received a couple of emails over the past few weeks that, though sent independently of each other, combine to illustrate in crystallized form the ineptitude of the Louisiana Legislature.

Whether this ineptitude is by design or is simply the unfortunate consequences of an uninformed citizenry’s having elected a bunch of dunderheads remains a matter of conjecture.

But regardless, ineptness is ineptness and everyone loses. Barney Fife perhaps said it best in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show when, speaking to Andy, he said of a character played by Don Rickles, “He’s not ept, he’s not ept, he’s just not ept.”

But I digress.

The emails.

In the first one, I was blind-copied on a message sent to 15 senators, all members of the Senate Finance Committee:

  • Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte), chairman;
  • Brett Allain (R-Franklin);
  • Conrad Appel (R-Metairie);
  • Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge);
  • Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans);
  • Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville);
  • Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro);
  • Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell);
  • Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles);
  • Greg Tarver (D-Shreveport);
  • Bodi White (R-Central);
  • Norby Chabert (R-Houma);
  • Blade Morrish (R-Jennings);
  • Francis Thompson (D-Delhi);
  • Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe)

(Chabert, Morrish, Thompson and Walsworth are all interim members.)

The email dealt with the writer’s concerns over the Louisiana Department of Education’s Minimum Foundation Program, the formula employed for funding public education in Louisiana (not that they would be likely to read anything that didn’t have a campaign check attached),

I have withheld the identity of the author of the email because he/she obviously is an LDOE insider with sensitive knowledge of the situation. Here is that email:

To: lafleure@legis.la.gov, allainb@legis.la.gov, appelc@legis.la.gov, barrowr@legis.la.gov, bishopw@legis.la.gov, donahuej@legis.la.gov, fanninj@legis.la.gov, hewitts@legis.la.gov, johnsr@legis.la.gov, tarverg@legis.la.gov, whitem@legis.la.gov, chabertn@legis.la.gov, morrishd@legis.la.gov, thompsof@legis.la.gov, walsworthm@legis.la.gov
Date: April 28, 2018 at 4:16 PM
Subject: MFP Program at Department of Education

Greetings,

On Monday morning, the Senate Finance Committee will approve SCR48 by Sen. Morrish.  This resolution deals with the MFP (Minimum Foundation Program) formula for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. As the Department of Education and representatives of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will argue that these funds are necessary to help Louisiana’s struggling schools, one must question the MFP in the current fiscal year. 

The department has been in complete chaos these past few weeks when it discovered a serious flaw in the MFP formula. Every child in the state was shortchanged in State General Fund dollars since the fiscal year began in July 2017. Interestingly, some districts got more MFP dollars than (they) should have. The department currently has a $17 million State General Fund surplus because of the flawed formula. Now, instead of quickly correcting the formula and distributing the funds to the school districts, they (Deputy Superintendent Elizabeth Scioneaux and MFP Director Katherine Granier) are attempting to “spin” the mistake and make no mention about it because they are afraid of an audit of the MFP program. Basically, the department will lie and cover up the mistake, the local school districts will lose out on the funding that they are entitled, and the excess State General Fund will be used for onetime expenses in fiscal year 2018-2019.

Who is monitoring the Department of Education? Anyone? Are they not accountable? 

I would be interested in what they have to say about the $17 million surplus. I am quite certain that the local school boards would be surprised to know this, too. They are unsure how the formula is derived and they just depend on the Education department to get it right.

I would hazard a guess that this individual never received a response from a single member of the Senate Finance Committee. LouisianaVoice also would be interested in knowing if anyone at LDOE is accountable or if anyone in the Legislature is paying the least bit of attention.

That curiosity is piqued not only by the email above but by one received on Sunday. Again, I am keep the identity of the second writer confidential as well. Here is that email:

To anyone who thinks that the legislature is doing ANY real work:

Consider the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP). This $3.7 BILLION appropriation is the second largest item in the state budget (the largest is Medicaid). These dollars go to local school districts to fund operations. It’s kind of a big deal and surely elected members have some questions or at least want to know a little about this gigantic item, right? WRONG!  The MFP for FY19 exists as SCR 48. This resolution sailed through the Senate with only a couple of perfunctory questions. Not to be outdone, when it arrived at the House Education Committee, it got worse. Chairman Nancy Landry (one of the worst of the Tea-Partiers) called up the resolution before anyone from LDOE even arrived at the meeting, said it wasn’t necessary for the Department to be there, moved favorable, and just like that, $3.7 BILLION moved on. Not a single question, not a single comment, no public testimony (no one was present), no Department testimony. And THAT is YOUR legislature at work. Meanwhile, the House Floor spent HOURS on an asinine bill by Rep. Amedee (possibly the least intelligent member of the body) to mandate a certain amount of time per day as “recess” for grades K-8. One would think this is purely the purview of BESE and the local school boards, but No. Incidentally, Amedee is one of those Tea-Partiers who abhor any sort of government regulation EXCEPT WHEN IT IS SOMETHING THEY WANT. Then, it’s okay! To its credit, the House voted her bill down. But the fact that hours were spent on such stupidity, and not one minute was spent on the MFP, tells you everything you need to know about YOUR legislature. These are the jackasses that WE elected!! So, who should really shoulder the blame? The elected jackasses or “We, the People” who put them there? 

In addition to the contents of those two emails, consider this:

The Louisiana Department of Education has 37 unclassified employees (appointive) who draw $100,000 or more per year in salary, including Elizabeth Scioneaux, who is paid $133,000 per year whose job it apparently is, according to the first writer, to spend multi-million-dollar mistakes in order to conceal them from legislative or state auditor oversight.

LDOE also has nine people identified by the somewhat ambiguous job title of “Fellow” knocking down between $88,000 and $110,000 per year. Those are mixed in with the “consultants,” “directors,” “advisers,” “specialists,” “assistants,” “researchers,” “managers,” “liaison officers,” and something called “paraeducators.”

In all, LDOE has a whopping 170 UNCLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES, topped of course, by State Superintendent John White’s $275,000 per year. This information was obtained as part of a public records request submitted by LouisianaVoice.

We even found our old friend David “Lefty” Lefkowith, who pulls down $100,000 per year as a “director,” whatever that is. Our first encounter with Lefty was back in 2012 when we discovered he was commuting to and from his California home to perform his duties with LDOE. A little closer examination revealed he was part of a CARTEL that included then-candidate for Florida governor Jeb Bush, the now-defunct Enron Corp., and a spin-off company named Azurix in a failed effort to privatize and store potable water to later sell to the highest bidder through a process called aquifer storage and recovery (ASR). At least LDOE did drop Lefty’s 2012 salary of $145,000 per year to its current level. But then, we’re told that he no longer commutes, either; he works from home in California. Nice.

Others include:

  • Laura Hawkins—Recovery School District administrator (RSD): $110,000;
  • Elizabeth Marcell—RSD administrator: $115,000;
  • Dana Peterson—RSD administrator: $148,500;
  • Jules Burk—superintendent: $120,000;
  • Meredith Jordan—education coordinator: $112,200;
  • Ralph Thibodeaux—superintendent: $115,000;
  • Allen Walls—education coordinator: $112,200;
  • Ronald Bordelon—RSD administrator: $150,000;
  • Andrea Cambria—RSD administrator: $100,000;
  • Tiffany Delcour—assistant superintendent: $120,000;
  • Gabriela Fighetti—assistant superintendent: $135,000;
  • Lona Hankins—director: $140,000;
  • Jessica Baghian, assistant superintendent: $129,800;
  • Erin Bendily—assistant superintendent: $140,000;
  • Kenneth Bradford—assistant superintendent: $129,800;
  • Jennifer Conway—assistant superintendent: $129,800;
  • Bridget Devlin—chief operating officer: $110,000;
  • Hannah Dietsch—assistant superintendent: $130,000;
  • Lisa French—manager: $104,500;
  • Joan Hunt—executive counsel: $129,800;
  • Rebecca Kockler—assistant superintendent: $129,800;
  • Rebecca Lamury—director: $100,000;
  • Diana Molpus—educational director: $103,000;
  • Kunjan Narechania—assistant superintendent: $159,500;
  • Catherine Pozniak—assistant superintendent: $140,000;
  • Jan Sibley—fellow: $100,000;
  • Jill Slack—director: $126,500;
  • Melissa Stilley—liaison officer: $135,000;
  • Dana Talley—liaison officer: $130,000;
  • Francis Touchet—liaison officer: $130,000;
  • Alicia Witkowski—fellow: $110,000;
  • Jamie Woing—fellow: $110,000;
  • Jacob Johnson—executive director: $100,600;
  • Shan Davis—director: $135,200.

And there was Vicky Thomas, listed as a “confidential assistant,” making a cool $91,800 per year.

Yet, with all those high-powered appointees with the important-sounding titles, a $17 million error in the crucial MFP was apparently allowed to slip through the cracks and no one in the legislature across the street could think of a single question to ask—because they were too busy considering recess, concealed carry in schools, granting payday loan companies interest rates of 167 percent, renaming highways, and…well, you know: important matters.

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“Just because a cat has kittens in the oven doesn’t make them biscuits.”

It’s a quote attributed to Malcolm X, reprised by Kelsey Grammer in an episode of the number one sitcom Frasier, but actually has its origins in New England. It means, “Just because you were born here, it doesn’t make you one of us.”

It could just as easily be updated to apply to State Superintendent of Education John White’s lame explanation of a settlement of a lawsuit by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) against citizens James Finney, a technical college math instructor and Mike Deshotels, a former educator and past executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators.

White was quoted in the Baton Rouge Advocate as saying the ruling by 19th Judicial District Judge Janice Clark “merely resolved what had been a conflict between two laws” because federal law instructed the department not to release data that could be used to personally identify a child while state law mandated the disclosure of all public records.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/courts/article_76e860ca-8bd9-11e6-9963-cf5829bedcf3.html?sr_source=lift_amplify

Bull feathers.

Department legal counsel Joan Hunt said in a Wednesday email to members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) that a declaratory judgment was sought to resolve “tension” between free disclosure of public records and protection of student information according to federal law.

Balderdash.

Neither Deshotels nor Finney ever requested information that would identify a single student.

Period.

And John White knew that. Period.

Since becoming Superintendent of Education in January 2012, White has made a career of stalling on compliance with public records requests if not denying them outright.

LouisianaVoice was once forced to sue white over public records and won an award of $2800 ($100 per day for each day delayed per request), plus court costs. The only downside of that judgment was that White was not held personally liable, meaning the $2800 and court costs were picked up by Louisiana taxpayers.

But in suing two Louisiana activist citizens (who admittedly had been something of a nuisance to White with their monitoring of the department), White reached a new low in attempting to avoid being held accountable for the manner in which he runs the department.

His lawsuit, in terms of disgraceful acts, ranks right down there with those judges in Monroe who sued the Ouachita Citizen, a newspaper in West Monroe. The newspaper’s sin? It made public records requests of the court.

Do we detect a disturbing trend here? You bet we do. The Louisiana Department of Education, district courts, and other public bodies have virtually unlimited financial resources at their disposal and most, like the Department of Education, have in-house legal counsel like Joan Hunt. They can initiate lengthy—and costly—legal action against any citizen and people like John White and district judges don’t have to pay a penny of the costs of litigation, courtesy of Louisiana taxpayers.

Private citizens do not enjoy that same advantage. It’s not a level playing field. And even if the public body does not sue, it can drag its heels on compliance, forcing the citizen making the request to either give up or enter into expensive legal action with no guarantee the court will uphold the public’s right to know.

At last Monday’s hearing, Judge Clark let it be known that her patience was wearing thin with public officials who attempt to hide behind legal maneuvers in an attempt to avoid compliance with the law.

The LDOE attorney opened by saying the department had “informal guidance” from the federal government that “we do not have to comply with FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests.”

Perhaps sensing the mood of the court, the state withdrew its demands for attorney fees from Deshotels and Finney, adding that “only two people are interested in the data.”

Judge Clark said it was an “improper purpose” to deny information to the public as a retaliatory action.

“Counsel should meet and work this out,” she said. “The public (meaning the court) takes a dim view of public officials using public resources to delay compliance with public records laws.”

Deshotels attorneys J. Arthur Smith and Chris Shows met outside chambers for more than two hours with LDOE attorneys but were unable to arrive at an agreement on the release of the requested documents.

When informed of the continued impasse, Judge Clark, visibly angry, said, “I am issuing a subpoena for John White to be in court at 9:30 tomorrow (Wednesday) morning for cross examination.”

When White got word of that, it was something akin to Moses coming down from the mountain with the 10 Commandments. Suddenly minds came together and miraculously, there was accord and LDOE agreed to three stipulations which settled the suit filed in April by White and the department against Deshotels and Finney. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/education/article_536e2fac-b5e2-575c-87f6-1a991bf0f455.html?sr_source=lift_amplify

The first stipulation mandates that the suppression of data in the economically disadvantaged and English language learner or English proficiency sub-groups of the Education Department’s multi-stat reports is not in compliance with the Louisiana Public Records Act.

The department agreed not to suppress student enrollment data in responding to requests made under the act in the second stipulation.

The final stipulation says requested data will be made available to the public dating back to 2006.

Deshotels said the declaratory judgment filed against him and Finney was never about clarifying the legal issues relative to certain public records and student privacy as claimed by White.

Instead, he said White’s action was “purely an attempt to discourage citizens from seeking to independently research the claims and conclusions made by White and his staff.” “If citizens are forced to face legal challenges and high legal fees for seeking public records, the Department can continue to manipulate and spin what should be factual information about the operation of our schools.”

Sadly, Judge Clark’s ruling will do little to expedite timely compliance with future public records requests to other state agencies.

Even as this is being written, former commissioner of administration Kristy Nichols has already cost the state more than the original judgment against her in another lawsuit by LouisianaVoice.

LouisianaVoice received a pittance in a lawsuit in which the Division of Administration (DOA) under Nichols had dragged its heels for more than three months on several separate public records requests.

LouisianaVoice calculated DOA owed some $40,000 in penalties for non-compliance but was awarded less than $2,000, plus costs and legal fees, by the court. Even then Nichols appealed the decision. And although the court held Nichols personally liable, meaning she alone was responsible for the penalty, the state is picking up the tab for that appeal, which partially upheld the district court ruling.

Nichols, still not satisfied, and still not paying a cent of the legal costs (though LouisianaVoice is paying its legal costs, applied for writs to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

As of this date, the state has spent far, far more than the penalty imposed on it in trying to avoid paying the penalty and LouisianaVoice has spent more than it will ever be awarded, provided the Supreme Court even upholds the lower court.

And while the obvious question is: Is throwing good money after bad a wise way to spend state funds? An original penalty of less than $2000 has now cost the state several times that in defense costs and the tab is still running.

And John White’s obfuscating dribble notwithstanding, that’s what Louisiana citizens are faced with in trying to hold its state government accountable.

 

 

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By James C. Finney, Ph.D.

Guest Columnist

(Editor’s Note: James Finney is one of two Louisiana citizens (Mike Deshotels is the other) who was named as a defendant in a lawsuit by State Education Superintendent John White in an effort to thwart efforts by the pair to obtain public records from the Department of Education. White has defended his action by pointing out he is not seeking monetary damages from Finney or Deshotel. He failed to mention, however, that it will cost them money from their personal funds to defend the lawsuit while White has the financial resources of the State of Louisiana at his disposal.)

 

Much has been written about the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, otherwise known as the Louisiana Scholarship Program, or the voucher program. To summarize: The Department of Education allows vouchers for almost any private school that wants them (or so it seems) and then performs minimal oversight.

The students are tested, but the Department works hard to make sure taxpayers don’t get to see any useful data. The program is based on a premise that it helps poor kids access private schools. But “poor” is 2.5 times the poverty level which, for a family of four, means an annual income of $59,625 is low enough to put a kid in a private school at taxpayer expense. And, of course, the state refuses to release any data about how many children are at which ends of that range of income. And the point is, allegedly, to allow kids to escape failing public schools.

Never mind that the students may have never attended a public school. Ever.

But this post isn’t about that voucher program. It’s about the sneaky alternative that funds private schools by way of tax rebates. The Tuition Donation Rebate Program allows donors to fund private school tuition and recoup most of that donation as a tax rebate.

As might be expected, there are middlemen taking their cut of the money. At the beginning of the program, there was only one such organization—Arete Scholars Louisiana. The registered agent, Gene Mills, he of the Family Forum, has apparently neglected the paperwork required to keep charter 41200779N active with the Louisiana Secretary of State.

Mills, founder of Louisiana Family Forum, was the centerpiece of an extraordinary post by Jason France on his Crazy Crawfish blog in October 2012. https://thecrazycrawfish.com/tag/louisiana-family-fourm/

Founded in 1998, Louisiana Family Forum included as its “Independent Political Consultant” and “Grassroots Coordinator,” former State Sen. Dan Richey. http://www.lafamilyforum.org/about/

As an example of the family values for which Family Forum supposedly stands, Richey, while serving as a state senator from Ferriday in the 1980s, gave his allotted Tulane scholarship to a Caddo Parish legislator’s daughter in exchange for that legislator’s awarding of his scholarship to Richey’s brother as a means of circumventing the informal prohibition against giving the scholarships to immediate family members.

Superintendent John White’s Department of Education, with the approval of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), thought it was critical that there be multiple organizations available to help people support private education rather than pay taxes. So they gave grants of up to $499,750 to ACE Scholarships Louisiana (charter 41590796K) and up to$500,000 for New Schools for Baton Rouge Excellence Scholarship Fund (charter41726088K) so that these limited-liability corporations could each set up their business of accepting donations, funneling them to private schools, and providing the documentation required for the donors to get tax rebates from the Louisiana Department of Revenue.

According to the Louisiana Nonpublic School Choice 2015 Annual Report, which was submitted to BESE but not accepted, the tuition donation rebate program started in 2013-14 with Arete.

Arete’s 2013-14 Arete’s 2014 Annual Report indicates that the organization disbursed 14 scholarships, worth a total of $60,975.02, and all funded by the Atlanta Falcons.

No, that’s not a typo: Those Atlanta Falcons. That amount was confirmed by the Louisiana Department of Revenue: One unnamed taxpayer was issued a rebate in the amount of $60,975.02 in tax year 2014.

According to the state’s 2015 annual report cited above, there were two Student Tuition Organizations active in 2014-15: Arete and ACE. Arete’s 2015 Annual Report confirms the number of scholarships reported by the state, 50, at 24 schools, with a total value of $180,381, while ACE Scholarships Louisiana LLC’s 2015 Annual Report reports 13 scholarships, three schools, and a total of $40,780.67.

The donors of note on Arete’s annual report include the Atlanta Falcons, Chik-fil-A, James Garvey and several other individuals. ACE’s donors were David George and Edward Rispone. According to the Louisiana Department of Revenue, the total of rebates awarded in 2015 was $101,659.85, and they ranged in size from $950 to $47,105.

The numbers exploded in 2015-16, though, especially for ACE.  The state’s voucher report indicates that Arete awarded (as of March 2016) 205 scholarships at 50 schools, ACE awarded 558 scholarships at 77 schools, and New Schools awarded 13 scholarships at four schools. The names of the schools, donors and dollar amounts likely won’t be available for several months, however.

The targets for total scholarship awards (remember those half-million dollar contracts a few paragraphs above) were 1,000 for this year and 1,250 for 2016-17 (ACE) and 75 and 125, respectively for New Schools. So apparently New Schools aimed low and shot lower. Perhaps that’s a good thing, in that taxpayers will see less revenue diverted away from the state’s coffers. On the other hand, this spreadsheet indicates that, as of the end of 2015, New Schools had already collected $300,000 on its contract, and ACE had already collected $249,874.98.

It’s interesting what a person can learn from availing themselves of their rights under Louisiana’s public records law (Title 44).

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