Friday, December 7, 2012

BESE Defies Court Decisions

Public education was subjected to more insanity this week from the Jindal and the ALEC controlled BESE. BESE, at the request of Superintendent John White, voted to approve 45 Choice Course providers to offer MFP funded private courses in the 2013-14 school year. Tom Aswell writes in the Blog, Louisiana Voice, that not only is this action in conflict with the recent State and Federal court decisions outlawing MFP funded vouchers, but several of the BESE members voting for this windfall for private providers may have a serious conflict of interest. BESE members Lottie Beebie and Carolyn Hill were the only members who voted against the authorization. Ms Beebie suggested that at least 5 members of BESE should have recused themselves from voting on the Choice Course authorizations. It seems that some of the BESE members expressing enthusiasm for the privately sponsored courses had received hefty campaign contributions from some of the Course providers or their owners. I hope you will read the Louisiana Voice story (see the post dated Dec. 5) linked here which details the campaign contributions to BESE members by some of the Choice Providers.

In addition to the two court rulings against MFP funding and violation of deseg. requirements for Choice Courses, there are other important reasons for not approving Choice Courses as they are presently structured. I received a very disturbing answer from the BESE president to a letter I sent in September questioning the guidelines for Choice Courses. Following the response from Dastigue, I requested and received a meeting with Superintendent John White to discuss my concerns about the guidelines for Choice Courses. ( click here to read the Reuters story about Louisiana A la carte courses)

The meeting I had with White was very cordial and he seemed to be interested in my concerns about potential abuse or even fraud in the implementation of choice courses by some providers. I presented my concerns to White in writing in the form of the letter I had sent to BESE. He promised to review my concerns and get back to me with a response. To date there has been no response from White. Now BESE has approved the choice course program with no real safeguards for our tax dollars.

My major concern about Choice courses that is not adequately addressed in the BESE guidelines is that there is no guarantee that choice providers will deliver any level of value for our tax dollars. That's because the compulsory attendance law is basically waived for most choice courses. The problem is that there is no provision in BESE guidelines for taking roll for students attending choice courses. Also in the case of virtual courses delivered over the internet, students are exempted from a minimum number of hours of instruction. According to present BESE and DOE policy, students don't really have to attend choice courses in order for the provider to be paid. All that is needed for payment of the fee is for the provider to report to the DOE that the student has completed the course. Completion could be taking the provider's word that the student has passed the provider's tests, or it could be simply a statement by the provider that the student has completed all assignments required by the course. In other words, the provider has every incentive to claim that the student has completed a course even if he/she has done almost nothing. This was confirmed in my reply from Dastigue indicating that a student taking a “choice” credit recovery course or a high school course that requires end of course testing does not have to pass any such test for the provider to receive full payment!

None of the above shenanigans could happen in a regular public school setting. That's because there is real accountability for students, parents and schools in a regular public school provided course. By law, attendance is taken every day and if a student misses ten or more days, he/she cannot get credit for a course. In addition school systems are required by law to track down all truant or tardy students. Parents who do not send their children regularly to school can be found to be negligent by local judges and can be fined and required to send their children to school. But according to BESE rules for choice courses, students, parents and choice providers get a free pass and permission to misuse our taxes. This is what passes as education reform in Louisiana.

Jindal and White have stated that parents are the best judge of the value of a school or course provider and that parents should have every right to spend their child's MFP funding at any approved school or with any approved choice provider. But here is my objection to that claim. That MFP money does not belong to the parent or the child. In some cases the parent may not have paid any taxes that go to the MFP. That money belongs to all Louisiana taxpayers, even those who have no children in school. We all pay our taxes to provide for the common good of all citizens. That's why we all deserve accountability for all public funds spent to educate children. That's why choice course providers should not be allowed to write their own check for any services given to public school students. All of this is in addition to the fact that so far the courts have ruled that choice courses provided though the MFP are unconstitutional!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fallout From Our Governor's Ambitions

C. B. Forgotston is a former state budget official and is an expert on politics and Louisiana state government. I thought my readers might like to see the opinions of a non-educator on the recent fight over vouchers. The following is the post by Mr Forgotston about the Governor's ambition creating a problem for children. Remember when I pointed out in this blog that the LAE lawyer Brian Blackwell was correct in warning  private school administrators about the possible consequences of accepting voucher money. The following is an excellent blog on Louisiana politics and the folly of our governor's ambitions.

"Judge Tim Kelley’s decision today that the funding for Bobby Jindal’s school voucher program unconstitutionally diverts state funds to private and parochial schools was refreshing.
It’s rare when a Louisiana judge rules against a sitting governor, but the constitution is as clear as can be written that the money in the Minimum Foundation Program (“MFP”) can only be used for public schools.
Had Jindal not been in such a rush to ram through the new voucher program to advance his national political ambitions prior to the National Republican Convention, he could have gotten the leges to pass an amendment to the constitution to make its funding legal. Failing to do that, Jindal should have waited until the constitutionality of the new law was tested in the courts before implementing it.
Neither of those options served Jindal’s ambitions.
The voucher program might be the best thing since sliced bread. However, good intentions mean nothing if the will of the people as expressed in the constitution is circumvented for political gain.
Who suffers?

Jindal will not suffer as a result of this decision. He will quickly spin this stunning loss to his advantage with the national media.
Unfortunately, because of Jindal’s blind, political, ambitions he and a majority of the leges have just put 5,000 innocent school children into legal limbo. Where will they attend school next year?

If Jindal truly cared about Louisiana and providing quality education for the children, he’d accept the judge’s ruling and submit a proper funding mechanism in the 2013 legislative session. He won’t because Bobby only cares about Bobby.
Regardless, of how one feels about vouchers, a ruling based on the law rather than Machiavellian politics should make everyone feel good.
Kudos to Judge Kelley!