Monday, July 2, 2012

Jindal Choice Law: An Invitation to Fraud and Abuse

Note to readers: Soon this blog will carry a report on the voting records of all legislators relative to the Jindal school reform package. At that time I will include suggestions for approaching our legislators about possible repeals or other modifications needed in the laws. Again I am encouraging all readers to submit an email to so you can be added to my DEFENDERS OF PUBLIC EDUCATION data base. Please include your name and preferred email address and home address so that I can classify all participants according to thier own legislative districts. We have much work to do to save our public education system from destruction. Please be part of this effort!

Key portions of the recently passed Jindal Education legislation are being challenged in court by the LFT, the LAE,  and by the Louisiana School Boards Association. The student scholarship (voucher) program is being challenged on the basis that the state is not authorized by the Louisiana Constitution to fund student enrollment in private schools. These groups are attempting to prevent the implementation of this law before the beginning of the 2012 school year. At this point, the court challenges may be our best hope of preventing the new laws from doing serious damage to our educational system.

In addition to the questionable legality of paying for children to attend private and religious schools, in my opinion, the law is an open invitation to unscrupulous individuals to use our taxes for personal enrichment of a few at the expense of the education of children. This blog has pointed out recent newspaper revelations that several of the private religious schools that had been initially approved for relatively large numbers of public to private “scholarships” apparently did not have adequate facilities, staff or materials of instruction at the time of approval. Superintendent White subsequently assured legislators that private schools offering scholarship seats would be carefully screened to insure that they were capable of providing a quality education program before being given the final go ahead. This policy was obviously created only after the potential abuse was discovered by reporters. (See the new article linked here from the Monroe News Star that incicates that White attempted to mislead the Legislature and the media media about due diligence efforts of the Department!) 

Since private schools are not required to meet accountability standards, such as high stakes tests for promotion and end of course tests as a requirement for graduation, there is no way for Louisiana to insure that our tax money is being used to actually provide quality instruction to students and that the diplomas awarded are valid. There is no way to prevent private school administrators from paying themselves exorbitant salaries while hiring cheap unqualified teachers and charging excessive rent for school facilities using our tax money!

Another portion of the new law inviting possible abuse is the new choice course option. This is an even greater opportunity for fraud and abuse. The provision of Act II that allows students enrolled in public schools to draw upon MFP funds from their school system to attend one or more courses provided by private virtual schools or by private individuals I believe, is another instance of unconstitutional use of public school funds which should also be challenged in court. Meanwhile the state will soon begin to accept proposals from various providers to offer such classes at state expense to students attending public schools rated “C” or below by BESE. The new law provides that such course offerings be approved by BESE by January 1, 2013 so that students may enroll for the 2013-14 school year.

According to the new law, such courses (equal to one Carnage unit) are to be funded at the amount billed by the provider up to one sixth of the MFP funding for the public school system the student attends less 10%. Local school systems are prohibited by the law from discouraging student participation in such courses. (But there is nothing in the law to prevent these private providers from using a portion of our tax support to wage advertizing campaigns aimed at recruiting students from public schools) The law allows students to take vocational or college level courses not provided by their home school but also to take replacements for regular core courses that are already offered by their school if their public school is rated “C” or lower. By passing this provision, the Governor and the Legislature apparently assume that private providers that have little or no track record can provide core courses more effectively than our highly regulated public schools. I believe that the two virtual for-profit schools that are already operating virtual charter schools in the state are uniquely positioned to raid students and critical funding from the public school systems. They already have a major advertizing campaign going to recruit public school students. While their BESE approved charters limit the number of students they can enroll in the two charters, this new law increases their pool of potential students taking numerous virtual courses by tens of thousands!

The “choice course” option amounts to an open invitation for for fraud and abuse by unscrupulous operators. The greatest flaw in this hastily adopted legislation is the provision that 50% of the funding be paid to the provider at the first attendance reporting period on October 1 of each year. There is no provision in the law for reimbursement of any of this 50% in the event that the student does not attend the course after the initial reporting period. The experience of virtual schools provided by K-12 in Colorado is that many students who initially enroll in the virtual program end up dropping out early and re-enrolling in local public schools. This allows the virtual school provider to keep state funds while the local school system which lost the funding is still required to provide the education. Because of the nature of virtual schools, it is almost impossible for the state to enforce the mandatory attendance law. There are clear checks for attendance and guaranteed instruction in a traditional public school, yet it may be almost impossible to check to see of students are doing the required work in a virtual school. Such schools could easily become diploma mills. The opportunities for abuse are almost limitless. It is critical that BESE adopt safeguards to prevent abuse of this section, but in my opinion is there is no way to monitor these programs effectively.

The primary rationale used by the Governor and his supporters for public to private “scholarships” or “choice courses” is that parents are the best judges of the best educational program for their children. Not only is there no evidence for this conclusion, but it must be noted that the money being spent by these parents on scholarships or choice courses is not their money. It is the public's money. Some choice parents may have paid only a small portion of the tax money allocated to the scholarship for their student. Public school funding is provided by all taxpayers; even those who have no children in school. Those other taxpayers have a right to demand that their money is used properly and not wasted or paid to fly-by-night-providers. The problem is that big money and the profit motive could soon fuel major advertizing campaigns that can cause parents to make poor choices with our tax dollars.

My opinion is that the opportunities and the incentives for fraud and abuse in the "choice" programs are so great that no safeguards implemented by BESE or the Department of Education will be adequate to insure proper use of our tax dollars. It is ironic that those who want less government involvement in our lives will eventually be forced to fund a huge regulatory bureaucracy or accept serious misuse of tax dollars. Jindal, in the name of education reform, and in his determination to replace public schools with private providers has created a regulatory nightmare.

I want to refer my readers again to the Recall Jindal website for the most current information on recall efforts on both Governor Jindal and certain legislators. I encourage all my readers to participate in the recall efforts. There can be no justification for the harm done to public education  and to the teaching profession by the Governor and his allies in the recent legislative session. Recall is a legitimate tool of opposition!