Just in case you required any additional evidence that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent of Education John White are attempting to implement a large-scale privatization of the state’s public education system, consider this: Earlier this month, it was revealed that Superintendent White is paying Doug “Lefty” Lefkowith, a California-based, self-identified “motivational speaker,” $145,000 a year to serve as a “Director of Content” in the Louisiana Department of Education. To be sure, Lefkowith’s actual title remains somewhat ambiguous, but his record is pretty straightforward. Thanks, in large part, to the yeomen’s effort of Tom Aswell at the Louisiana Voice, we know that Lefkowith has built his career as a consultant promoting privatization initiatives. Quoting:
It turns out that Dave “Lefty” Lefkowith, DOE’s new Director of the Office of Portfolio, has quite a past, with strong connections to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the infamous Enron Corp. and a spinoff company called Azurix. ….
Our initial request for public records resulted in the disclosure that Lefty was an employee of DOE. The obligatory follow up request for information revealed that the Louisiana taxpayers got him for a mere $144,999.88 a year, with a “free” Youtube video to boot, albeit a largely amateurish effort to hype DOE’s computer Course Content.
It might also be worth noting that on that video, Lefkowith gives himself a promotion—from being Director of the Office of Portfolio to Deputy Superintendent.
Mr. Lefkowith, according to Aswell, also worked to deregulate energy and privatize water in Florida, failed efforts that nonetheless earned him a consultancy position with the Florida Public Service Commission. In fairness, Mr. Lefkowith is, unquestionably, well-educated, having earned degrees at both Yale and Stanford, but his position and his work with the Louisiana Department of Education should be questioned: He appears to be a political consultant who specializes in privatization initiatives and who possesses none of the requisite experience one would ordinarily need to become a “Director of Content” or a “Deputy Superintendent” of a statewide public education department. So why, exactly, was Mr. Lefkowith hired? Tom Aswell references an “amateurish” YouTube video; “amateurish,” it turns out, is an understatement:
Aside from the criticisms of the videography, there is a much bigger story here. For months, I have focused on the ways in which the Louisiana voucher program intends to facilitate the privatization of our public education system. As Mr. Lefkowith’s video reveals, however, the voucher program is only a piece in the puzzle: The Course Choice program, which will be rolled out in 2013, is also about diverting public resources to prop up the same type of private, unaccountable education system, a system more concerned with profit than with results, a system that provides “licenses to hunt” instead of licenses to educate. Here’s a partial transcript of Mr. Lefkowith’s remarks (bold mine):
I’m going to leave the development of the course offering to your best judgment.
You’re going to need to operate like a business. You’re going to need to create a business. Now, the first thing you’re going to have to do is determine what your costs are going to be to create this service and to provide it. There’s instruction cost, there’s facility cost – you may be used to the school, just showing up and there’s your classroom. Well, in this world you’re going to have to make arrangements for your facility – it may be in a school, it may be in a mall, it could be anywhere – it could be online. You have to figure out what you’re going to spend in terms of facilities, or virtual facilities.
You’re going to have to do some marketing and selling. Even if you go through the process of applying for Course Choice and getting accepted and going through the interview and getting final approval from BESE, that’s just a license to hunt. You’ve got to go out and get students to sign up for your course offering. You’re going to have to figure out how you’re going to do that. Maybe you’re going to fly an airplane over the LSU stadium saying “take my course,” maybe not.
And if you have no idea what you’re doing, fear not: Doug Lefkowith and his support staff at the Louisiana Department of Education will hold your hand through the entire application process.
In Louisiana, the marketplace approach is allowing taxpayer dollars to flow to parochial schools that teach creationism rather than evolution. And the Course Choice program allows all sorts of entrepreneurs to set up anywhere, or offer courses online.
This is the wonder of the market. It allows anyone access to public funds for whatever sort of education they want. It allows parents to use public funding to send their children to largely segregated schools, private schools, religious schools, or to stay at home and take virtual courses. These systems were first promoted back in the early 1960s, when the government began actively pushing for desegregation. How this advances the cause of Civil Rights is a mystery to me, and one that advocates of “choice” need to explain, especially as the consequences of privatization manifest themselves.