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By Stephen Winham, Guest Columnist

A Year After North Louisiana Flooded, seven Months after South Louisiana flooded, and while many are still trying to sort out their FEMA claims and other flood-related issues, we see the following headline about the much-touted “Restore Louisiana” program intended to bring additional aid the victims:

Louisiana scraps bids for flood recovery contract; governor’s office says redo shouldn’t cause delay [The Advocate, 3/18/2017]

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_a8f924c6-0b38-11e7-ad7b-3b13d83a0953.html

The day before, we saw much the same reported in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report Daily Report PM.

 https://www.businessreport.com/article/state-cancels-250m-contract-award-flood-relief-program-will-restart-contract-procurement-process?utm_campaign=dr_pm-2017_Mar_17-15_16&utm_medium=email&utm_source=dr_pm

 Reading these reports and remembering that the first state program for flood victims, “Shelter at Home”, ended with decidedly mixed reviews, we might well ask what my headline does.

In addition to our governor, our congressional delegation has fought long and hard for the approximately $1.7 billion in federal support secured for our state’s “Restore Louisiana” program.  And, the governor is seeking even more federal funding for the program, despite the fact no money has yet been distributed.

The Restore Louisiana Task Force was created by executive order of the governor on September 2, 2016, to provide the program’s framework.  That was a good start, coming only 3 weeks after the south Louisiana Flood.  This 21-member panel held its first meeting in mid-September and our congressional delegation was able to get a commitment of some $500 million right away, something many considered remarkable.

The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced in mid-October the imminent release of 88% of the first $500 million grant.  About that same time, Hurricane Matthew struck other southeastern states, but that crisis was not expected to delay Louisiana’s grant.  By late October it was announced the initial $438 million would come in the form of semi-flexible HUD grants to be used for housing and small business needs.

In late October, the task force delayed making recommendations due to infighting among the members on fair distribution of the first $438 million while the governor was still promising to go for a total of $4 billion.  Basically, the members couldn’t decide who should get money first and how much they should get.  Sound familiar?  Surely politics was not at play here.

By the time Gov. Edwards went back to D. C. to beg for more money in early November (one of a total of 7 times he would do so), our congressional delegation was finding support difficult in light of the fact nothing had come of the initial $438 million to address purportedly emergency needs.  U. S. Rep. Garrett Graves (R-Baton Rouge) was particularly vocal about this.

In mid-November, the task force came up with a plan for $405 million of the money with priority on needs of the poor, elderly and disabled.  They correctly projected that jumping the many bureaucratic hurdles to implementation would likely require several months before the first dollar was actually used to repair or replace flood-damaged homes.

In early December, an additional $1.2 billion in funding began to make its way through Congress.  The estimated flood damage in the state totaled $8.7 billion with damage to over 113,000 homes.  The task force published an action plan for the initial aid to HUD to be submitted the first week of January 2017.

At the end of December HUD awarded the additional $1.2 billion, bringing the total to almost $1.7 billion available for the Restore Louisiana program.  All the money came with bureaucratic strings attached.  These strings were blamed for the continued delay.

In late January, the task force met to present a breakdown of how the money would be distributed.  Many people questioned the fact that 19%, or $315 million, was allocated for administrative costs.  Pat Forbes, director of the state office of Community Development said the 19% was a cap and that administrative costs would be kept as low as possible.  He also pointed out that administrative costs associated with Hurricane Sandy in 2012 were 45% of the total.

Now, consider that paragraph again.  Are we to believe we are getting a bargain if administrative costs are only 19%.  And, how can anybody justify administrative costs of 45% attributed to Hurricane Sandy?

In early March, the state awarded a contract for $250 million (about 15%) which was $65 million less than the second-place bidder (what a coincidence that this $315 million equaled the cap in the task force report).  Then, the second-place bidder filed a protest claiming the winner did not have the commercial contractor’s license required by law.  Other losing bidders were expected to follow suit.  Oddly enough, the State Licensing Board for Contractors pointed out in its ruling that neither the first nor second place bidders had the required license at the time they made the bids.  Imagine that.

The administration claims re-bidding will not further slow the program down because it will be possible to make a new award quickly.

A quote from the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report PM on March 17 by Rep. Graves:

“This is very disappointing news,” Graves says. “This will further delay the allocation of badly needed flood relief funds that we appropriated in September. It is impossible to explain to flood victims why $1.6 billion in recovery dollars are stuck in the bureaucracy, while homes remain gutted, moldy and uninsulated.”

I’m with Congressman Graves on this one. He has been rightly critical of the failure to implement this program for months. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that it is utterly ridiculous to hold up funding for over a year for some people for an EMERGENCY from which they are still suffering.  To say the people needing this assistance are long overdue is to grossly understate the situation.

We all deserve to know what will be done for the $250 million (or more) in the management contract – What, exactly, is the contractor going to do and at what hourly and other rates? Have we considered it might be cheaper for the state to do this, even if it had to hire people on a temporary basis? The state already has at least some of the things in place the contractor may charge for based on responses to the original RFP.  I realize we have all been led to believe the state is incapable of doing anything cheaper than the private sector, but I’ve not seen enough evidence to convince me.

Examining the records of the task force shows it never actually predicted the money would start to flow to the people who need it before about now.  I honestly thought the timeline was much shorter and that we were willing to pay the exorbitant costs of the management contract because we needed the swiftest action possible. I certainly did not realize nothing was going to happen before now, so I clearly was not paying enough attention.  I have to believe I was not alone.

Since we are now going to start over with the award of the contract, I sincerely hope somebody will look very closely at the proposals to ensure we are paying a fair price for what we will be getting.  We’ve already wasted this much time on bureaucratic B. S. so why not spend at least a few days more before rushing into another contract.   Meeting HUD requirements would seem to be the current major holdup, so it’s not like taking a little more time now would be wasted and it could result in more money for those in need.

Note:  I must credit the excellent reports in The ADVOCATE by Elizabeth Crisp and Mark Ballard and in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report by Stephanie Riegel upon which I based most of my research for this column.

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 By Stephen Winham, Guest Columnist

“… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses”

Juvenal [circa 100 AD], Satire 10.77–81

“Bread and circuses” (or bread and games; from Latin: panem et circenses) is metonymic for a superficial means of appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the generation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace, as an offered “palliative“… The phrase also implies the erosion or ignorance of civic duty amongst the concerns of the commoner.

—Wikipedia

 

Have these words of a Roman poet, written 1900 years ago, ever been more relevant to our country and state?  And, this is hardly satire.  In Louisiana’s government, we still get the circuses (the just-ended special legislative session, for example), but they are not nearly so much fun as they were in the past. They also no longer provide the level of distraction our elected officials expect.  Our leaders still provide the bread, too, though too many are left with the heels – and we are not always sure even they are distributed equitably.

Just as our country is clearly divided, our state is becoming increasingly partisan. Confronted with precisely the same problems, the two sides view them as if they exist in alternate realities.  The factions do not seek to find common ground.  They might compromise, but that is hardly the same thing.

In the most recent session of the legislature a purported compromise on how to best patch the state’s budget for the remainder of this year resulted from an agreement by the administration to accept the effect of a very questionable House Concurrent Resolution that will, if we believe the proponents, be a great “reform” and will magically free up almost a hundred million dollars in state general fund for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2017 – money, mind you, that was always there for the taking, just never captured.  Sound just a little suspicious?

How does this magic work and how does it differ from past gimmicks, you might well ask?  Well, unlike some of those, it really does free up general fund, but it also cuts other constitutional and statutorily dedicated funding, notably including the Transportation Trust Fund.  The Transportation Trust Fund has already been criticized for not being used more on roads and bridges desperately in need of repair – and now we are going to take another $15-$18 million of it to pay part of our General Obligation (not highway) Debt service?  And, lest we forget, TTF funds match Federal Highway funds so the potential impact is greater than the amount diverted. Is this your concept of “reform?”  It certainly is not mine.

The Bond Security and Redemption Fund ensures our general obligation debt service will always get paid first. It is the subject of HCR1 of the special session.  Money constantly (and somewhat theoretically) flows through it on the way to the general fund from which we have typically paid general debt service. I consider the fund a practical fiction because it would only have actual effect if somebody ever pressed the “stop” button and froze it to draw the necessary amount for debt service. However, its existence enhances our bond ratings. There is a legitimate concern that messing with it in any way can jeopardize our ratings, not because it places the payment of debt service in danger, but simply because we have started messing with it at all. The fact we have recently had to borrow short-term to meet current obligations is further evidence we should leave the BSRF alone. To the extent confidence in our fiscal status is eroded, and our ratings decline, we must pay more to service our debt.

House Speaker Barras, the author of the concurrent resolution that directs this miracle reform is a banker.  He certainly knows all these things.  Let’s put the best face possible on the resolution and assume he wanted its passage to ensure the special session did not close with absolutely no action toward addressing our long-range problems – which would have been the case in its absence.  This proposal had been made before and rejected by the administration for the reasons above and others – reasons I consider valid.

Could using the resolution as a bargaining chip have been a power play more than anything else?  Barras was not JBE’s pick for Speaker of the House.  The Republicans in the house are flexing their muscles in a faint attempt to emulate the partisanship of their national counterparts. Did they rally around the speaker to get in JBE’s face with this one?  Could this distraction have also been the center ring performance in this special session – a small act in a small session with bigger acts like those in past sessions to come when the Greatest Show on Earth returns to Baton Rouge in April?

Let’s face it.  Nobody has done anything that comes close to solving our overall budget problem.  Our roads and other infrastructure are crumbling, our state services are becoming increasingly mediocre and, in the case of some life-and-death situations, dangerously ineffective.  Worse, most everybody seems to be ignoring the fact that we face a $1.2 billion (gee, why does that number sound so familiar?) gap in Fiscal Year 2018-2019 when the temporary sales taxes used to bandage the budget the last time we hit the wall expire.

The latest of literally dozens of past blue ribbon groups tasked with providing options for fixing the state’s fiscal problems, the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy, issued its final report, to little fanfare, on January 27, 2017.  Some of the best minds in our state participated in this study and it provides solid recommendations based on current information.  Our leaders need only choose among them.  I commend its reading to you.  Why has this report not become part of the circus yet – Is it too dull to have entertainment value?  Do our leaders believe we cannot be convinced by (or even understand) facts?  Do they believe illusion, misdirection and confusion are always better and that we are easily fooled?

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne was a key participant in the task force.  When the Fiscal Year 2017-2018 executive budget was presented, the governor and Commissioner Dardenne declined to say what they might ultimately suggest as the solution to our problem.  They also said, as they have in the past, this is not the budget they want to see implemented.  Well, if it isn’t, what is?

If the cuts presented in the governor’s proposed budget, most notably to TOPS, are not realistic – not something we can all live with – what cuts are?  We don’t know because, despite protestations to the contrary, we have not seen a truly honest budget in many years – one that says, “Okay, Louisiana, you don’t want to pay more taxes, here are the things we are going to permanently cut and we are going to stand behind them to the end.”  This is very different from: “Well, shucks, here’s some things that will balance the budget, but we don’t want to do them and neither do you, so what have you got to offer as an alternative?”

Representative John Schroder has taken the position the governor should present a realistic plan he is willing to stand behind to provide the legislature with a realistic starting point.  The governor seems to be saying no such plan exists.  So, if the governor doesn’t have a plan and neither does the legislature, where does that leave us?

Our governor has greater control over the budget than is the case in some other states.  Representative Schroder has a point, but the simple fact is the legislature, not the governor, holds the power of appropriation and many, including me, consider it to be its greatest power. The governor can recommend things all day long, but he cannot enact appropriations or taxes.

Speaking of taxes, why are so many of our citizens convinced they already pay too much in taxes for what they get from the government?  Look no further than LouisianaVoice, The ADVOCATE, nola.com, almost any television or radio station and what do you read, see, and hear?

Every day we are bombarded with tales of waste, corruption, theft, etc. in our state departments.  Are you going to tell me nothing can be done about this?  Am I to believe lightening would strike JBE and our other elected officials dead if they dared expect the people they appoint to run these programs as effectively and efficiently as possible and to demand accountability for their failures?  I’m not talking about the simple act of firing those who are doing a poor job.  That doesn’t accomplish anything if the replacement continues the practices of the predecessor. I am talking about expecting officials to have integrity and to know enough about the operations of their departments to stop these things from happening in the first place.

I honestly and truly believe people are willing to pay for things from which they see benefits and that they believe are providing maximum value – the marketplace proves this.  Every effort must be made to instill confidence in our government’s ability to manage our resources in the best way possible.  Sure, its goals are different – government exists to provide services, not make a profit, but that is no excuse for not performing to the highest standards possible.

I don’t know about you, but I am finding the circus less than entertaining and I can provide my own bread for the most part.  Others have given up on the circus, but need help from its owners.  It is past time those owners accept their responsibilities – and it is up to us to lean on them to do so every chance we get – beginning right now and continuing in earnest during the next legislative session.  Our leaders need to all look at what is happening to the real Ringling Brothers Circus and realize it could happen to them – and, much worse, to us.

 

 

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Editor’s note: Amid the Nazi salutes and cheers and hopes for better days or the wailing and gnashing of teeth and fears of worst-case scenarios in the wake of Donald Trump’s stunning victory (depending on one’s political sentiments), one unidentified individual’s observations on the mood encountered before and after the campaign stand alone as best capturing the angst being felt by those finding themselves surrounded by rabid Trump supporters. You can almost feel the frustration of the writer being placed in a potentially hostile environment.

The writer, who identified himself/herself only as “Confused” for very obvious reasons, wrote this as reader’s comment but we felt it was such a well-articulated, poignant message that it deserved to be published as a guest column.

With only minor edits, here is his/her story:

I have always been very private at work and avoided conversations there about politics, religion, science, evolution and diversity. It was just a general awareness of my not fitting in and seeing others getting ganged up on if they disagreed with others, which rarely happened.

Prior to getting hired (I’m from out west), I never thought I would ever experience living somewhere where I felt afraid for my job because I did not agree with the homophobic viewpoints, the entrenched racism, the anti-union sentiment and the fear of anyone of color.

I have stood up to this many times for our clients because I had no idea free speech is only allowed if I agree with them.

During the campaign, I was asked over and over about who I was voting for. I was told lies about both candidates, told racist and sexist jokes and heard people proudly boast of being white. I found ways to walk away or change the subject.

As many have noted in their comments on LouisianaVoice, arguing is futile.

Now I am terrified. I need my job. I can’t afford to move, but thinking of four years of living like this makes me ill. And knowing there is no guarantee it will end in four years only intensifies my anxiety!

I am white, but as terrified as I feel, I can’t even begin to understand how helpless this whole election has felt to those who Trump has attacked verbally and emotionally and now has the power to attack them physically and destroy their lives.

 

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MAGNIFYING GLASS

By Ken Booth

Guest Columnist 

Under the provisions of Louisiana 44:1 et seq. (The Public Records Law), should any local or state government official raise questions as to whether requested records are public, the agency’s custodian of public documents is required to notify in writing the person making the request of the custodian’s determination and the reasons, including the legal basis. Said notice shall be made within three days of the request exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays (emphasis added).

The law is pretty plain. It doesn’t say “may be made,” “might be made” or “should be made” within three days. The word used was shall.

MIKE EDMONSON PHOTO

But with the introduction of the new administration, elected and appointed officials in Louisiana seem to have decided they are exempt from provisions of the state law…one of them, the head of the State Police, of all people, even having “manufactured…own loophole for denying public records requests,” as reported by Louisiana Voice. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/01/lsp-stakes-out-claim-that-investigations-records-are-exempt-from-public-records-law-if-no-disciplinary-action-is-taken/

Are they perhaps taking their cues from federal officials?  Within the past week, for instance, the State Department told a federal court that processing a demand for documents relating to Hillary Clinton and her aides would take as long as 75 years and would stretch “generations.”

Besides Obama, of course, Nixon, both Bushes and Bill Clinton have regularly invoked executive privilege as a means of protecting documents from public scrutiny.

What brings this to mind are a series of demands for public records recently involving three areas of significant public interest but which have either gone unacknowledged or denied or even fought with lawsuits against the public seeking the records.  That’s a mean stretch even by Louisiana’s political and corruption standards.

When the weekly Ouachita Citizen sought to follow-up on a state audit that pointed to possible payroll fraud involving a law clerk for the 4th Judicial District Court, the court’s judges balked and denied the paper’s request for disciplinary action taken against court clerk Allyson Campbell over her alleged falsification of time sheets and other public documents.

When the newspaper filed a complaint with the District Attorney, the court filed a lawsuit against the newspaper which from a financial standpoint would effectively throttle further attempts to litigate the issue.

The paper has multiple public requests in at the office of state Attorney-General Jeff Landry which have for weeks gone unanswered.

Similarly, a couple of my own requests (shown here) to the new “transparency-minded” and “aggressive” Republican Attorney-General remain without result except for one letter which said it “may take some time.”

In a June 7th E-mail to Landry’s office, I wrote: “I would very much appreciate either the documents requested sixteen days ago or an opinion from that office on why they cannot be produced. Please know this is a public records request that will not go away silently.”

Landry’s press secretary Ruth Wisher has made sure that reporters know that her boss doesn’t always return her texts. Well, that certainly makes everything hunky-dory.

BOOTH REQUEST

AG RESPONSE TO BOOTH

BOOTH FOLLOW UP REQUEST
           Known records requests to the AG’s office also demand access to a state police report on its investigation into the allegations of possible payroll fraud and destruction or concealment of court documents. A report on the findings from a companion investigation by the Inspector General’s office was released back on April 15th. The state police report is known to be in the hands of the Attorney General.

All of this is at odds with the very public Landry who has been throwing his weight around the capitol lately pushing for control of his agency’s own finances, making national headlines while trying unsuccessfully to crack down on illegal aliens, and squaring off (at least publicly) with the Gov. John Bel Edwards as if he hopes to succeed him some day.

But Landry and the 4th Judicial District Court in Ouachita Parish are not the only ones playing keep-away with public records.

LouisianaVoice has been repeatedly stymied by the Louisiana State Police with respect to sought after records.

In fact, as a recent LouisianaVoice post notes, Edmonson has manufactured his own loophole for denying public records requests after tiring, he suggests, of the public learning of “far too many instances of misconduct at LSP followed by a mindset of circling the wagons.”

Several high-profile cases of alleged improper State Trooper conduct have been determined to have been free of wrong doing and are therefore exempt  from public records laws if no diciplinary action is taken. That’s staking out a rather questionable claim by the Supertindent.

Curiously, however, his agency did release records showing payroll fraud had occurred at Troop D headquartered in Lake Charles when the lieutenant there was accused of having instructed the men under his command to pad their time sheets to reflect work that had not been performed.

Ironically, that’s the same charge investigated by the same LSP against the law clerk in Ouachita Parish, the report of which has been hidden from public scrutiny even amid growing speculation nothing will come of the charges against her or the Judges who approved her bogus time sheets. It should be noted that the Troop D lieutenant was found to have engaged in “no wrong doing” and access to any investigation findings with respect to him has been denied. However, a trooper he supervised and who figured in the padded time sheets was fired.

The Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police is appointed by the Governor with consent of the State Senate. Edmonson had—and continues to have—the support of Gov. Edwards.

Edwards is also credited with preserving through his influence, at least indirectly, the job of another Jindal administration hold-over department head, Education Superintendent John White. While White actually is appointed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education over which the governor has little control since most board members are elected, his stated support of White certainly didn’t hurt.

JOHN WHITE PHOTO

White, a 2012 BESE appointee, has been under considerable public fire over his steadfast defense of the Common Core program.

White has filed a lawsuit against two individuals seeking public records in five different requests from the Department of Education, presumably to block their access to dirty laundry in that agency as might be said of the lawsuit by the Judges in Monroe against The Ouachita Citizen.

Even considering Louisiana’s notorius reputation for politial scandals, suing private citizens or even the news media by government agencies has plunged the state’s standards to a new low.

As has been pointed out elsewhere the use of unlimited financial and legal resources—all paid for by the taxpayers—to block citizens with limited financial means is a dangerous threat to the very notion of checks and balances that are supposed to protect the public from abuse.

For those elected Louisiana officials to sit back and do nothing to put a stop to this unprecedented assault on the public’s right-to-know is pretty much tantamount to an endorsement of such actions.

And if the civilian public looks the other way when this kind of mess is exposed and doesn’t demand that it stop then expect the level of distrust to grow.

 

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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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