Yesterday, Louisiana State Senator Conrad Appel (R- Metairie), the Chairman of the Louisiana Senate Education Committee, published an extensive and bizarre screed on the right-wing website The Hayride, ostensibly in response to a column by Professor Bob Mann in the Sunday edition of The Times-Picyaune. Professor Mann lamented the balkanization, fragmentation, and privatization of the Louisiana public school system, arguing, rather forcefully, that these policies were misguided and ultimately counter-productive. Quoting:
A strong component of Louisiana’s education “reform” agenda – led by Gov. Bobby Jindal and state education Superintendent John White – is abandoning public schools in favor of private educational enclaves.
For example, there is Jindal’s program to offer private-school vouchers to students from “failing” public schools.
Unfortunately for the students, Mr. Jindal’s gated neighborhood is not much better than their old one. An accounting of the most recent standardized test scores revealed that only 40 percent of the state’s voucher students scored at or above grade level last spring.
Moving down the metaphorical education avenue, we encounter another gated neighborhood, this one housing Louisiana’s 105 charter schools, most of them in New Orleans.
A recent report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor revealed that state education officials failed to provide schools with the required pre-assessment information and “did not verify that the school-reported data used to calculate School Performance Scores was reliable.” Officials also could not provide evidence they had strictly monitored the legal/contractual performance of charter schools in 2012.
Professor Mann is exactly and entirely correct. During the last few years, Governor Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White have promoted the privatization of Louisiana’s public school system, despite the fact that a substantial majority of private, quasi-private, and parochial schools are almost entirely unaccountable to the public and appear to be struggling significantly with academic performance. For me and for practically anyone else who does not have a direct political or financial interest in Governor Jindal’s “reforms,” Professor Mann’s editorial, with all due respect to him, seemed rather obvious and milquetoast: Charter and voucher schools have both attempted to find politically and legally convenient ways to avoid full transparency, and they’ve been aided and abetted by all-too-willing political leaders and administrators who think our Public Records Laws were actually intended to promote their own press releases instead of full and complete disclosure and compliance.
Our own, independent research is far more damning and conclusive.
(I’ll have much more to say about this in later posts).
That said, I fully anticipate that Senator Appel and his like-minded colleagues would strongly disagree with my characterization of his comments to The Hayride. But consider what he wrote, and then, consider the context. Quoting from Senator Appel (bold mine):
His (Mann’s) editorial effort is to somehow demonstrate that the emphasis of the reforms is placed upon ending traditional public schools and to privatize public education. This is not new reasoning. Since our effort to challenge the existing failed system began, this logic has been promulgated by the unions and others who do not want to see change. Mr. Mann conveniently ignores the fact that there is a statistical basis that drives the very substance of the reform movement.”
First, there is no “statistical basis that drives the very substance of the reform movement;” there is only thinly-sourced political conjecture. All of this anti-union absurdity is a charade and a distraction. Proponents of reform claim to be motivated by “statistical data;” it’s complete hogwash. Schools aren’t even releasing data; they are purposely concealing and evading potentially embarrassing public records. Just last week, I met a fellow blogger who had worked for the Department of Education in data-processing. After he resigned and moved onto a job in the private sector, he was initially informed that the documents he actually created for the Department of Education didn’t actually exist. Needless to say, he was not impressed. Quoting:
To date, DOE has responded only to the first request on this list. That leaves five requests that have been outstanding now for 25 days. Five outstanding requests times 25 days times $100 per day comes to $12,500.
That brings the total for all outstanding requests to $19,500 as of today. Add attorney fees and costs of court and suddenly DOE is knocking on the door of $25,000.
We have already instructed attorney Smith to file suit—again—but that this time he seek sanctions against White and monetary damages over and above the $100 per day for his making it impossible for our sister company, Capitol News Service, to file stories to our client newspapers (about a dozen publications) in a timely manner.
These are unnecessary expenditures—all because White either doesn’t care about the public’s right to know or, as with the case of the letter(s) of cancellation to inBloom, he’s simply a liar.
I have my own story to tell on these issues, but for now, it’d be best to hold off. Either way, it’s worth pointing out the Louisiana Superintendent of Education, despite his pithy and self-aggrandizing tweets, is also considered by at least one large state journal to be the “face of deliberative process,” a defense with which no court has recognized as valid.
I’ll be honest about State Senator Conrad Appel’s letter to The Hayride. According to independent, outside analysts, Governor Jindal and Senator Appel’s endorsement of the LSEA has already cost the State in lost revenue.
We’ve lost international conferences and credibility.
Conrad Appel spends an inordinate amount of time pandering, writing (bold mine):
“There is one last but important point that the far left, represented by Mr. Mann, has carefully avoided. As noted, this Republican governor and Republican majority legislature took on the task of changing for all time the disaster that was Louisiana’s educational system.
“The unspoken truth from which the far left can’t hide is very clear; Who are the greatest beneficiaries of a successful public education system?….The poor and our minority citizens are. Who claims to represent these segments of our population?….The Democrat Party and the Legislative Black Caucus do. Who has fought the hardest and taken the most political heat for trying to provide relief and a future for the poor and minorities?….Our Republican governor and Republican legislative delegation have. Where have the Democrats been?….In unified opposition to all efforts to help the people of Louisiana.
“It is ironic to the point of absurdity that far left writers like Mr. Mann constantly attack the reforms meant to help the very people he would claim as his Democrat Party’s own! Actually, perhaps it is not so! It is clear that the Democrat claim to support from minorities and the poor has always been based upon its use of demagoguery and fear mongering. We must remember that the Democrats and their union allies have controlled education policy down to the school board level for as long as anyone can remember. And yet where has the outrage been from writers like Mr. Mann for all those years in which our state’s children have suffered under the Democrat mismanaged education system?….Only silence! Out of the sheer love of our state, we Republicans have taken on the campaign to free our people from ignorance. We seek no compensation, political or otherwise, only a satisfaction in knowing that we are trying. We share an unfettered optimism for the future of all citizens of Louisiana and petty attacks by people who seek to destroy what is noble and good will be met with the truth. Let our actions speak louder than any misguided efforts of the status quo folks who would take us back to the bad old days.”
Less than a month after Conrad Appel voted against the repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act, one of if not the most aggressively ignorant laws in the entire county and only weeks after he refused to rescind the Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act (which was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court over 25 years ago), Mr. Appel boldly claims his campaign is “to free our people from ignorance.” And even at the risk of piling on: Senator Appel’s own campaign finance reports and income disclosures reveal him to be a millionaire who raised hundreds of thousands in donations and earned thousands on state contracts, in addition to his salary.
I have an earnest suggestion for Senator Appel: If you’re committed to public service without compensation, then don’t take the money. If this is about improving, then give it away to worth charities.
Either way, this will be fun.