Thursday, February 11, 2016

Possible Massive Fraud in New Orleans RSD Charters

Three recent articles by education investigative reporter Danielle Dreilinger,  here, here and here, exposes potential massive fraud in the operation of some RSD New Orleans charter schools. See also this most recent story in The Advocate by James Gill.

First Dreilinger reported on obvious violations of the open meetings law when the Algiers Charter Association met without notice of impending action to fire the top executive of the Algiers group from his extremely high paid executive job.

Being a good reporter, Dreilinger smelled something fishy about the secretive actions of the Algiers group and did some excellent investigative work digging up possible massive fraud in the testing programs for Landry-Walker High School. But she also found that State Superintendent John White was notified almost two years ago by a charter school researcher that something was obviously wrong with the dramatic improvements in test scores at Landry-Walker high school. The Dreilinger investigation found that the Algiers Board had been investigating the possible fraud at the school for over a year following the heads up they probably received from John White after he was tipped off to the suspicious test scores by an email from a CREDO charter school researcher.

The investigation by the charter school board of directors, did not target anyone for prosecution. Instead it looks like the once highly paid administrator may be seeking a generous severance pay package. Remember how the Wall Street bankers that just about destroyed the world economy and required taxpayer bailouts of their banks got big bonuses as they were given their walking papers? It looks like charter groups are similarly above the law. Or maybe he is seeking hush money to avoid implicating others.

 The investigation by the charter group used high priced attorneys who could invoke attorney client privileges to keep their findings secret. Questioning of teachers and monitoring of the next round of testing resulted in a a dramatic drop of end-of-course testing results for the 2014-15 school year. The year long investigation found numerous violations of testing policy and critical security measures that you could drive a truck through in cheating on state tests. The closer scrutiny of the investigation  resulted in the school grade dropping from a B to a D-.

The charter group has made it clear that they are not interested in finding wrongdoing that may result in educators going to jail as they did in the Atlanta cheating scandal. They just want to insure that the school operates properly in the future. My question is: If wrongdoing occurred with the knowledge of the administrators, why should these highly paid executives be immune to prosecution? What is John White doing about this?

In addition, Dreilinger uncovered possible fraud at Sci-Tech Academy, the crown jewel of the RSD charter systems. It seems that massive cheating occurred on internal tests that were being used to attract possible grants from foundations that support successful charters. But the administration of this charter network said they found no evidence of cheating on state tests. All very suspicious!

Danielle Dreilinger deserves a major news reporting award for her excellent work. This begs the question: Is cheating common practice for other charter operations in New Orleans? All I know is that I was contacted by another researcher recently who had found similar dramatic testing gains in several RSD schools in the LEAP/iLEAP program also. Right now the policy of the LDOE is to let charter management groups police themselves. What an amazing opportunity for the cover-up of fraud! I wonder if our new BESE is willing to change this outrageous policy?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Push Poll Used to Try to Sabotage Governor's Budget Proposals

I was one of the targets of a very aggressive telephone "push poll" Saturday afternoon. A push poll is really a fake public opinion poll where a political group hires a fake polling company to influence voters to support their point of view on one or more issues. This so called poll was designed to turn public support against any attempts by Governor John Bel Edwards to raise tax revenues to balance the Louisiana state budget. Certain (mostly big business) groups have made a decision to sabotage all efforts by the new governor to tackle the huge deficit in the budget by reducing tax exemptions for various businesses and individuals. For example, during the Jindal administration, income taxes that were part of the previously negotiated and approved Stelly Plan were reduced and many big businesses received tax exemptions setting the stage for a huge shortfall in state revenues and resulting draconian cuts to funding for our state colleges.

I really get tired of hearing politicians claim that there is plenty of fat that could be cut from state government without curtailing valuable state services and school funding. So why was it that as revenues fell over the last few years of the Jindal administration, with conservatives in full control of all branches of state government, the biggest cuts were to our state colleges, pushing the opportunity for a college education out of reach for many Louisiana students? Where was the "fat cutting" as we watched our roads and bridges fall apart and medical services curtailed to the point that children and disabled people lost basic medical care? So now that the budget hole has deepened to the size of the Grand Canyon, the greedy corporations are financing "push polls" to once again convince voters that we don't need to pay taxes for government to function. So now we are supposed to help kill any attempt to fill the budget gap. Now that Jindal has sold off public property, crippled higher education (while preaching the need to prepare our kids for high tech careers) and privatized medical care and K-12 schools, the same politicians who crippled our government want to tie the hands of our governor. This is a travesty!

Where are we headed with this strategy by the super rich to never pay their fair share of the cost of government? We may be headed to gridlock in state government similar to what has occurred in our national government. When that happens, Louisiana will not be allowed to borrow money (the way the Federal government does) to balance the current budget. Borrowing for current budgets is not legal for states. That's when Louisiana will continue and greatly magnify the starvation of our public schools, our health care system, our road maintenance, our jails, our police, and even emergency rooms.

Some people who read this may write me off as a bleeding heart liberal who wants to support giveaway programs and grow "big government". Nothing could be further from the truth. I support many conservative ideals, like opposing any programs that provide benefits for healthy working age citizens, and like supporting strict discipline in the schools. I helped to write the law that is supposed to allow teachers to remove extremely disruptive students who would deprive others of their education. I helped also to write the career diploma law which recognized that not all students are cut out for college, long before the Jump Start program. My view is not a liberal view. It is simply a view that all citizens and corporations need to pay their fair share of the cost of government services such as roads and bridges, pollution prevention, police and fire services, and education opportunity.

The push poll questions said nothing about the possibility of reducing funding to our schools and letting people die on the street for lack of health care. The only thing that was "pushed" by this poll was how Governor Edwards may run away businesses by raising taxes and how we need to cut the fat instead. Well good luck with that strategy! Jindal has already sold or privatized everything that was not tied down in Louisiana. It looks like the system is going to be rigged agains the workers, the teachers, the health care providers, and the average citizen. Big business, this last election, bought our state board of education and many legislators. Now they intend to cash in on their investment and it may bring our state to its knees. Please tell your legislator we want them to represent us, not the super rich who expect the government to exempt them from paying their fair share of our vital services.