The Monroe (La.) Daily News Star has in recent weeks been putting the screws to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and his plan to give public tax dollars to private schools.
Jindal's voucher scheme, the Minimum Foundation Program, would give parents the option of sending their kids to a private school participating in the program, paying for the private school tuition with taxpayers' money.
Needless to say, every church running a small-time pseudo-school in the state saw dollar signs and rushed to sign up for the free tax money Jindal and State Superintendent of Schools John White were planning to give away.
Unfortunately for them, the folks at the Monroe newspaper were watching. New Living Word School in Ruston, a town 32 miles west of Monroe, happily signed up for the voucher program and was approved by the state to accept 315 new students. In preparation for the windfall, the school also raised tuition for the upcoming school year to $8,500. Multiplied by 315, the school would earn roughly $2.7 million in taxpayer money for the upcoming school year.
The only problem for the school: it had nowhere near enough teachers, computers, or facilities to remotely accomodate 315 new students (the school had an enrollment of 122 the previous year). The school's principal, Rev. Jerry Baldwin, a failed college football coach at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, told the News-Star that the school was moving forward "on faith."
Turns out, the state approved New Living Word to increase its enrollment by over 258% without even stepping foot on the school's campus.
Combined with stories from other parts of the state, like the school in Beauregard Parish operating in spite of a fire marshal's order to cease-and-desist occupation following a failed inspection or the school in Calcasieu Parish which had been operating without an occupational license, it looked to outsiders like the state was just giving tax money away to any school, without any oversight or personal inspection.
As it also turns out, Superintendent White, who was at this point operating in a temporary capacity, was due for a state Senate confirmation hearing on May 30, five days after the New Living Word story hit the press. All of this kerfuffle looked like it might cause some problems for White's permanent job prospects.
But White had a plan. Follow me over the orange representation of my SAT score to learn more, Louisiana-style.
White's plan? A little backroom skullduggery played at the expense of the state's media outlets.
In an article published on July 1, Barbara Leader of the News-Star revealed e-mails sent by White to Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin and Jindal policy man Stafford Palmieri showing a plot to create a false news story about a "due diligence" step in the voucher program approvals.
In one e-mail to Plotkin and Palmieri, White wrote:
"I'd like to create a news story about 'the next phase' of determining seats in schools before (Sen. Ed) Murray creates an additional story for us tomorrow. I'd also like to take some air out of the room on the floor tomorrow and to give (Rep.) Steve (Carter, House education committee chair) some cover.The truth was this "next phase" did not exist before this e-mail, not even on the state's website, which was later changed to reflect the new "due diligence" policy.
The implementation of White's plan, according to the e-mails, would begin releasing to the media a letter to participating schools outlining these "further steps" in the approval process.
This will allow us to kill multiple birds with one stone. It would allow us to talk through the process with the media, muddying up a narrative (emphasis mine) they're trying to keep black and white.No such mention of further review was included in the actual letter sent to schools, which included marketing tips and instructions on accepting applications.
The first public mention of this supposed new policy came on May 29, when Deputy Education Superintendent Erin Bendilly appeared before a Senate committee. But Murray, a New Orleans Democrat and vocal critic of the Jindal's voucher program, sent Bendilly home when she was not specific enough with her responses to his pointed questions.
Some senators, like Murray and Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-West Monroe), were hearing from angry constituents and were growing frustrated with the Jindal administration's attempts to quickly push through the governor's education reform policies, like the Minimum Foundation Program. Their plan was to slow down such reforms and discussed even failing to approve the MFP.
White mentions this in an e-mail:
It would also allow us to take some of the edge off the remaining days of the session. And it would chill out some of our friends, who aren't being very helpful on the MFP by letting them know we're thinking of the 'criteria for participation.'Obviously, Sens. Murray and Kostelka were less than amused when the e-mails came to light.
Said Sen. Murray
This whole thing was portrayed as giving the children a better opportunity so it doesn't surprise me that the administration was trying to do something to block that information.Just another day in Sportsman's Paradise, folks.
11:19 AM PT: Wow! Rec list and spotlight!! Thanks so much.