For what it’s worth, over a year ago, many of us attempted to warn Scott McKay and his team at The Hayride about the serious issues with the New Living Word School in Ruston, Louisiana. As Barbara Leader and others at The News Star reported exhaustively at the time, the largest voucher school in the State of Louisiana appeared to have some major issues that were either swept under the rug or completely ignored. For what it’s worth, I published a few things on my own website about the school, arguing rather forcefully that the school should not have been included in the program and raising several concerns about the school’s capacity, its resources, its experience, and its qualifications. A month prior, Tom Bonnette and Scott McKay published a couple of full-throated defenses of the New Living Word School, going so far as to label it a “model” for the program.
Last Friday, Superintendent White and the Department of Education published the findings of an independent auditor who was tasked with reviewing and evaluating the financials of participating voucher schools in order to determine their compliance. As it turns out, the New Living Word School– the Hayride’s cause celebre– had to be removed from the program for misappropriating nearly $400,000 in taxpayer subsidies. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, we had been sounding the alarms bells against that particular school for months, and for good reason: Not only was New Living Word the largest voucher school in the program, it suffered from enormous institutional, infrastructural, and academic challenges, all of which should have raised major red flags when Superintendent White and the Department of Education considered which schools to qualify.
Then again, as I’m now learning, the ways in which schools applied for voucher funding were almost comically deficient– more often that not, it amounted to nothing more than a hand-written five-page checklist. Even though participating schools were required to submit an independent audit, it appears these specific audits were never actually produced.
I’m not trying to be purposely evocative or confrontational here, though I recognize I’m doing precisely that. Either way, Superintendent John White provided a stunningly naive understanding of these issues, a reflexive and patently dishonest reaction to his own negligent laissez-faire escapade on school vouchers: All they had to do was apply. No real auditing. No accountability or transparency. The mission was simple: Attract as many schools as possible, accept them into program, and answer questions later.
Which brings me to this: Superintendent John White should resign.
There is absolutely no excuse for his lack of oversight. Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been fraudulently utilized, and the buck stops with him. Try as he might to spin the Auditor’s report as a sign that he values transparency, the unvarnished truth is: It’s not your typical auditing report. The program itself is now diseased and corrupted by cheaters, fraudsters, and a toothless bureaucracy.