Amidst a Catastrophic Budget Crisis Louisiana Legislators Vote to Fully Fund a Charter Boarding School Forever

Should Louisiana start funding private boarding schools amidst a catastrophic budget crisis?

The vast majority of the Louisiana Legislature, including most of our fiscal hawks, believe we should. The Senate voted unanimously to approve HB and the House only registered two nays in approving HB887.

This bill now sits on John Bel Edwards desk; ready for signing.

(I will explain why I recommend calling your Reps and Senators to register your displeasure with their actions and to urge them to ask John Bel to veto House Bill 887.)

I would like to assume most of our legislators did not understand the implications of what they were doing when they voted to approve HB887.  I would like to think no one was aware of the larger backstory surrounding this EBR Charter boarding school called THRIVE – but I’m not that naive. Still, I have trouble believing most of our legislators understood the financial implications and shady dealings this school has already engaged in with taxpayer dollars.  Our legislature might have been overwhelmed by the lengthy session and compelled by the embellished feel-good story Thrive’s website and supporters are peddling – that THRIVE was envisioned and founded after one of Sara Broome’s students was killed.  (It was actually a student that went to a school Sara used to to teach at, one she “never actually had sit down had in her classroom” according to her own slickly produced Ted-talk on her “success” with THRIVE. (look at 2:45) However I agree, the way THRIVE and their supporters currently represent it sounds more dramatic and is a more efficient and effective use of a child’s tragic stabbing.)

Now that the dust is settled it’s time to fix what the legislature broke, and not just because we’re broke but because it’s the right thing to do.  It’s the right thing to do for our already heavily levied taxpayers; for the destitute critically ill patients that will die; abandoned elderly with no family left alive to care for them; abused children we can’t afford to watch or rescue; and disabled children who will lose basic support and education services.  These are groups who were told by this legislature that they would have to do without because “our state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”  The story of HB887 indicates this may very well be true.

Amidst all the draconian cuts to services for some of our neediest citizens (and unaffordable though overdue raises for state workers) THRIVE was given a blank check to run a school usually only associated with the uber wealthy, a boarding school where parents can dump their kids off while taxpayers pay for their every need.

THRIVE started with 20 students in 2012. Their stated objective is reaching 350 in the near future and 420 by 2020. (THRIVE’s last publicly available count is 110 from October 2015)  Prior to HB887, this school was already granted 5 million by the legislature to procure buildings for this endeavor.

  • $1,000,000 through Act 15 of 2014 (general fund budget)
  • $4,000,000 through Act 26 of 2015 (capital outlay budget)

While it appears this money was intended to have been used to procure buildings for domiciling resident students, and save on rental costs, the minutes of the meeting of the Board of Directors of THRIVE Baton Rouge dated November 5, 2015 indicate that THRIVE Baton Rouge sold all of its property to THRIVE Foundation, a separate non-profit, for “fair market value.” The same minutes of the Board of Directors of THRIVE Baton Rouge indicate that it leased back the same property that it sold to THRIVE Foundation.

These types of arrangements are common for charter schools operators like Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies (which also operate charter schools around our state.) This allows an operator to extract assets purchased with tax payer dollars, that would normally revert to the school district or state, for themselves.  This is done to generate enormous profits from non-profit charter school situations, by charging rents and fees for administrative services through a separate but affiliated and wholly controlled agent – usually at rates far above market prices.  As the enrollment of the THRIVE charter school has grown, so has its rent.  This is rent it would not have had to pay if it retained control of the buildings it purchased with enormous taxpayer outlays.  This “rent” paid by THRIVE Charter School goes into the coffers of THRIVE Foundation – a non-profit corporation that does not have an agreement to return assets to the state or school district (which is in addition to other funding it receives from MFP and private donors.)  Not counting private funding or endowments, THRIVE’s current estimated per pupil ratio is around 24,000 per student per year, more than twice MFP (what every other school district receives per student which is estimated at 11,000 per year by the legislator auditor documenting the relative costs of this bill.)

However, if we divide the 5 million dollars this school received in Acts 15 and 26, by the number of students this school has served throughout its entire existence, we get approximately another twenty thousand per student cost footed by the state.  Before we even factor in any other grants THRIVE has received from government programs, private donors and philanthropies THRIVE’s cost per student was already thirty two thousand per year. Now, with the state picking up the remainder of the tab, forever, the cost rises to over 40,000 dollars per student, per year, compared to a $11,000 cost to a traditional school district (largely made up of local and federal dollars.)  These excess dollars are fully covered by the State General Fund.

Almost all of our legislators approved this arrangement in House Bill 887 although you unless you are a researcher and accountant you might not understand the large, long-term financial implications from a simple reading of this bill.  To get those types of details you need to look at the Legislative Auditor’s fiscal notes and do some pre-Common Core math.

The auditors expect this program to cost, at a minimum, 8.3 million a year at 350 students, or closer to 10 million dollars at the 420 students THRIVE has indicated they want to achieve by 2020 in their PR handout.  According to the fiscal note that accompanied HB887, this bill actually creates a brand new State agency, and it expects the costs associated with complying with state laws and benefits will take this price tag (to state taxpayers) even higher (and are incalculable at this time.)  So while some legislators were trying to generate revenue or implement tax cuts to address our out of control budget spending, Representative Steve Carter of Baton Rouge was creating a new State agency that adds a minimum of 10 million dollars annually to the state budget. A legislature tasked with reigning in the budget virtually unanimously approved this 10 million+ dollar annual spending idea and sent it to the the Governor’s desk to sign – where it sits now.

Maybe this is what you elected your state Senators and Representatives to do, but I would guess that the majority of you did not expect them to write a blank check to create a private boarding school funded by state taxpayer dollars for all of eternity; a school that has no limits on how large it can expand or how high the price tag can ultimately be; a price tag that will be anywhere from 2+ to 4 times the money we spend on general education students.  I would bet you didn’t intent for legislatures to write 5 million in checks to a private organization so it could hand the assets bought with those dollars over to another private organization which could then charge a new State agency ever increasing rent, as THRIVE has done. The 5 million dollar mistakes are in the past.  This 10 million dollar mistake is in a future we can still change if we act now.

While some parents were pleading and providing tearful testimony about some of the cuts slated for them and their children with disabilities, some legislators were already scheming to re-inflate the budget for years to come; to insure private boarding schools would be paid for out of state coffers for a select few at extravagant costs to these same taxpayers.

Legislators like Republican Senator Ronnie Johns from Lake Charles lied to these parents with statements like “We hear you clearly, and I can tell you, you are our priority,” while at the same time demonstrating this is clearly not the case with his vote to create state funded private boarding schools. It’s kind of ironic in a way actually. . . creating boarding schools for parents to ship their kids off to are a higher priority that helping parents care for their disabled children at home (instead of institutionalizing them which will also cost the state much more money in the long run than helping these parents care for their children at home.)

I’d like to think this is just a story about how good people can be misled to do bad or stupid things.  Perhaps this is just another example of how our budget expands out of control and no one understands why?  Without a doubt, this is clearly an example of misplaced priorities; but we can fix this.

Please contact your state legislators and ask them to ask John Bel Edwards to veto HB887.  You can call John Bel’s office as well, but it’s important our legislators be made to fully understand what they did here. Their understanding is very important so they can be on guard in the future and so they don’t try to override the Governor’s veto.  As you can see below, they clearly have the votes to do so and legislators need to be told by their constituents how they feel about this legislation.

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In Louisiana Convicted Murderers Have More Civil Rights Than School Children with Disabilities

In Louisiana Convicted Murderers Have More Civil Rights Than School Children with Disabilities

When I saw this video and story recently it reminded me why I became an education activist 4 years ago and also why I have become a Libertarian more recently. We have allowed our government to become our punisher instead of our protector. The Louisiana government has given itself the right to treat your children worse than it treats convicted murderers.  People need to realize it’s our job to reign in our government, not the other way around.

In Georgia a woman was told she must grant the school district the right to “paddle” her 5 year old son or she would go to jail if they had to suspend him. He had missed 18 days of school for various dignostic tests for cancer. At least 19 States, including Louisiana, allow corporal punishment in schools. Louisiana is one of the only states, if not the only state, that grants school districts the right to strike children of all ages and any disabilities with a wooden paddle, but without parental consent (and even against parental wishes.)

Using physical punishement against adults is considered cruel and unusual punishment by the US Supreme Court, and torture by the Geneva Convention (and most of the civilized world for that matter) however the same punishment when used against children, especially those with disabilities, is considered not only legal but necessary by many in our state – including many legislators and judges. Without getting into the argument as to whether it’s okay for you to spank your own kids or not (or for whatever reason varous public or private school officials decide) consider that what is meant by Corporal Punishment in Louisiana schools is a 2 foot long wooden paddle that is used on kindergarteners and highschoolers alike. According to data I reviewed while I worked at the Louisiana department of Education, some children in our state have been paddled more than a dozen times a year for very minor infractions.

As a parent, if you spank your kids and cause them harm you could face criminal charges if they are seriously hurt or injured. However as a result of our legislature’s actions, strangers, school employees, cannot be held accountable in most cases, despite many children ending up emergency rooms each year as a result of school sponsored paddling. As a parent, you might be angry with your child, but you understand your own children’s limits, and hopefully love them even if you are mad at them or feel they need some form of physical discipline. School employees that paddle children have no such constraints or equivalent emotional bonding with the children they paddle.

Years ago the state legislature passed a law that corporal punishment is allowed in our state, at a school district’s discretion, not a parent’s. Parents do not have a right to refuse on behalf of their children. In an opinion written by Judge Scofield in 2004 for our Third Circuit Court of Appeals in the Setlif versus Rapides Parish School Board

To allow parents to unilaterally thwart the legally sanctioned decisions of school officials, could lead to troublesome, if not chaotic, results. There would be nothing to prevent ten, twenty or a hundred parents calling in to request that their child not be spanked. What if these same number of parents requested that no form of punishment whatsoever be administered to their children? The legislature, in its wisdom, chose not to leave the door open for such potentially dire consequences.

Scofield conjures up a ridiculous scenario where all forms of punishment are abolished if parents are allowed to request their kids not be beaten by the state to defend his decision to legalize the rights of schools to use discipline methods that are considered too inhumane to be used against animals by the SPCA, and quite harmful psychologically and physically to use against children by the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines. Moreover, our Supreme Court has deemed corporal punishemnt to be cruel and unusual and has banned the practice agaisnt even the most hardened criminals in our prisons. Even prisoners being put to death by the state via lethal injections are protected by our Constitution from unnecessary pain or suffering while their executions are carried out. Yet our children can be beaten until they are hospitalized and school employees are protected from prosecution by the laws enacted by our legislature and rationalized by our courts.

Scofield further defends his decision in the Setlif V Rapides corporal punishment appeal by making the case that violating the basic civil and human rights of anyone in a minority can be justified so long as you have a subjective goal seeking the “best acadmic atmosphere achievable” for the majority, as deemed by government officials, who also get to define what “order” they are trying to preserve and who the “miscreants” are that need the punishing.  By this definition, anyone who disagrees with a government defined “order” is a miscreant and can be stripped of their Constitutional protections.

The rationale of the legislature and the school board in allowing corporal punishment is based squarely upon the goal to preserve for the majority of students and teachers the best academic atmosphere achievable, even at the expense of swatting the behinds of those few miscreants who choose to disrupt the order.

That corporal punishement is necessary to maintain government defined “order” in our society, and without it the world would descend into chaos, is a warped idea that ignores the fact that the vast majority of civilized and orderly places do not use corporal punishment and that for the most part the only places that do are actually the least advanced and most chaotic. Scofield’s “logic” defends this practice by saying that the basic civil rights of minorities are irrelvant when considering the welfare of the majority, even if the objective is not to defend life or property, but just to improve the “academic atmosphere” a little. Furthermore judge Scofield argues that without the ability of public schools to use paddles on all children (including those with disabilities) whenever they wanted to, and regardless of parental wishes, (in the pursuit of “order”) schools would be uncontrollable. Most states in the United States do not permit Corporal Punishment on children, nor do most Western countries permit it on anyone. If this statement had any vestiage of accuracy we would see Corporal Punishment use increasing in the United States and across the “civilized” world. Contrary to the bizarre and unsubstantiated “belief” expressed by Scofield, the more rural or isolated the area the more likely this discipline method is used – probably because no significant media is around to report on it. Even the NFL, not known for the gentleness of its athletes, took a firm stand against corporal punishement when it suspended Adrian Petersen for a year after he injured his own son during a discipline session involving a “switch”.

The Louisiana Department of Education was instructed by the Louisiana Legislature to start collecting Corporal Punishment statistics in 2010. For years I have requested the details of that information numerous times in public information requests that copied the State Superintendent of Education, John White. To date, none of my requests have been filled. I know the state collected this data because I was the one who designed the system to collect it, and the one responsible for collecting it through 2012, when I left the Louisiana Department of Education.

I believe simply analyzing and reporting this data will lead to Louisiana in the direction of more rights for parents and children, and fewer opportunnities for citizens to be legally abused by their government.

Last year Superintendent John White testified numerous times against a charter school in Lafayette that did not propose using corporal punishment in the charter submitted to the state. However the founders of the charter, Kingdom Collegiate Academy of Excellence, had appeared on a reality show called America’s Supernanny spanking their own kids. This outraged John White (publicly). Even though John White had sponsored this charter operator with state funds, JW declared he was not comfortable having these folks in charge of a charter school in his state because of their actions on the show

If John White is really this fervently opposed to Corporal Punishment, why then have I been repeatedly met with illegal refusals to provide information collected by the Louisiana Department of Education, that was also supposed to be reported to the legislature annually?

I discussed my earlier attempts to get this information out with some insiders who wrote White’s stonewalling off as politics. The majority of the State that still permits and freely uses and promotes corporal punishment is in the northern part of the state, which was Bobby Jindal’s stronghold of support. (Parishes shown in green ban corporal punishment, districts in red allow it.)

from page 16 of CP study by Quentina Timoll
from page 16 of CP study by Quentina Timoll

Bobby Jindal and John White largely supported and protected each other until the end of Jindal’s second term so that reasoning might have been marginally plausible once.  I doubt John White relayed my request to Jindal though. If John White really cared about the use of corporal punishment why wouldn’t he have followed through with the push by former Superintendent Paul Pastorek and interim Superintendent Ollie Tyler to collect and disseminate this information to the public, as they were directed to do by Louisiana House Resolution 167?  Why withhold this information from me for 4 years?

I was told Pastorek’s hope was that publicizing this was a first step towards putting pressure on school districts to put a stop to it. However, if politics did play a role, we now have a new governor named John Bel Edwards in the Governor’s mansion with support in the more southern and metropolitan areas of the state and teacher’s unions.  I wonder if things will be any different with a Democrat versus a Republican? I’d like to think these policies would run contrary to the beliefs of the teacher’s unions and I hope that Edwards and his team will make some moves to put a stop to the practice.  I would think even LABI and Stand for Children Louisiana would get behind an effort to put an end to a practice that has been shown to lower IQs and other test scores, increase violent crime, cause depression and psychological trauma, reduce earning potential – and which has not even been shown to actually prevent future discipline incidents, merely make the future ones more likely to be violent.

I wonder if anyone has told John Bel Edwards that close to 1/4th of all students corporally punished in Louisiana have one or more disabilities and are classified as Special Education students according to the latest data I have available from the 2011-2012 school year through the Office of Civil Rights Office of Civil Rights?

Student’s classified as Special Education under IDEA make up around 10-11% of the public school population.  For those of you who are parents of a Special Education student let me break down what that means.  Your child is more than twice as likely to be corporally punished as a child without disabilities.  Are children with disabilities twice as disruptive as students in regular education?  Perhaps some children with some exceptionalities are more disruptive due to their exceptionality, like children with some forms of autism or severe emotional disturbance.

Perhaps hitting these types of children with wooden boards will “fix” their behavior problems? I kind of doubt it though.  I also wonder how many of these meted corporal punishments are not evidence of misbehavior, but frustration on the part of the teacher or the student?

Qualified and experienced Special Education teachers are often the hardest spots to fill, especially in rural districts.  When communication with words breaks down, maybe the best way to resolve situations involving children with disabilities is a two foot long wooden board and some pain? Not all of these children may understand why they are being punished, or be able to control their actions consistently due to their disability, but many animal trainers believe fear and pain works well for training animals to obey, so why not kids the theory goes.  Without properly trained professionals to handle the myriad conditions our students come to school with, maybe the best our school districts can do is to use pain to train obedience in the kids that are too hard to work with?  The evidence seems to support that hypothsis if we look at this situation in the best light.  Other conclusions we might draw are that students with disabilities are just more innately “bad”, and thus need more paddling, or that students with disabilities are easy targets and/or administrators administering corporal punishment derive some form of deviant satisfaction or pleasure from spanking children with disabilities.   I can’t really think of any non-depressing reasons this is true.  Can you?

We can ask them though.  LDOE also collects the names of the folks performing each paddling session.  Punishing that list might put a stop to the practice too.

Fortunately my earlier expose’s on this subject tipped off other researchers like Dr. Richard Fossey about the existence of LDOE’s corporal punishment data.  I spoke with Dr. Fossey at a few public venues and engaged him in e-mail correspondence for a while. He told me he was working on a project with LDOE through some of his graduate students who were given access to some of this data. I was careful not to rock the boat while this project took place, although I admit I eventually lost track of it, until now. <== Study Link

For the most part this thesis is a good resource on the history of Corporal Punishment in the United States and Louisiana, and includes some fascinating details about various court cases across the United States and where things stand now. I commend Quentina Timoll on producing this great reference source. I would caution readers to consider the actual numbers suspect as:

  • the author notes the figures provided by LDOE are as much as 30% lower than what the school districts reported to the federal government directly
  • pages 61 and 62 appear to have significant addition and subtraction errors
  • the “percentages” on pages 63 and 64 and throughout the paper are off by a factor of 100 (unless it is customary to show percentages as decimals but still label them as percentages in tables.)
  • some parishes are left off both the lists that permit corporal punishment and the lists that allow (like Red River)  They did not report any data and LDOE apparently did not enforce compliance.
  • the study lumps districts that permit corporal punishment (but rarely do it) in with districts with excessively high rates (but small populations).  I believe this leads the author to draw incorrect generalizations about the whole
  • and perhaps most importantly, because I had access to the preliminary data before I left LDOE.

When the project to collect this data first started at LDOE I somehow found myself in charge of it. I reviewed the preliminary data which was not tied to SIS, the Student Information System, but was instead tied to lists of forms collected for each instance of corporal punishment which were tied to incident checklists our folks in charge of discipline data required the school districts to complete and retain on file. The data I reviewed showed some districts disciplined upwards of 40% of their student body with wooden paddles, and numerous students were “disiciplined” this way more than 12 times over a six month period. At first I thought I was being given duplicate records.  I verified that some were.  However for the most part the records I reviewed had different action dates and different reason codes. I had a few records with identical dates – indicating a student corporally punished more than once on the same day – which were confirmed by school district data coordinators.

This preliminary data shocked me of course. I asked school districts to confirm my results and much to my surprise they were largely confirmed. Paul Pastorek was asked to resign by Bobby Jindal to make room for John White not long after my results started coming in.  I had plans to publish this information on our department website once a full year’s worth of numbers came in.  However John White came during the first full school year we started collecting this data through SIS.

After White’s arrival we were informed his intent, which was realized not long after his arrival, was to drive off all data coordinators and shut down the department I was associated with. I left not long after his arrival.  White and his minions successfully drove off or fired every one of my immediate co-workers within the first year.  That led to a great loss of institutional knowledge about what LDOE collected and how to go about validating it. The belief relayed to me by one of his appointed overseers (just before I escaped the slaughter) was that the Department needed to “get out of the business of validating data and holding school districts hands”. School districts needed to “submit the data correctly the first time or live with the consequences.” While this may sound good at first blush, it’s all of Louisiana that has to live with the consequences of bad data in the form of:

  • wasted funding for students that are not really present or improperly classified
  • invalid rankings of schools
  • teachers effectiveness calculations (ie VAM)
  • inflated graduation rates

Ultimately all this bad data leads to bad statistics which leads to incorrect conclusions and usually harmful and destructive actions.

Currently a majority of the 70 Louisiana City/Parish school school systems authorize the use of corporal punishment and only 16 (including the Special School District) ban the use of it.

School districts that reported using this the most from 2011 – 2014 with rates ranging from 5 – 10 % are: Caldwell, Franklin, Morehouse, Richland, and Sabine. Explained another way, your regular education child has a 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 chance of being paddled one or more times each year in these school districts (1 in 5 if your child is identified as a Special Education Student) – so your child is probably not graduating without a few licks during their K-12 education experience.

 

Sorry I’ve been away so long. . .

Sorry  I’ve been away so long. . .

I know some of you are wondering what corner of the earth I dropped off of (or took refuge in).  I’m equally sure there are plenty of people who are glad they don’t have to hear any more from me – and are probably hoping this is a permanent situation.  I hate to disappoint, but I’m still watching and observing – from a sane distance.

I noticed after the recent BESE and Governor’s elections that the anti-reform camps were devolving.  This seemed to be happening along party lines, and I wanted no part of that.  I worked hard to build a coalition of voices and I was sad to see it fracturing in the aftermath of John Bel Edward’s election and his subsequent BESE selections that left many in the crossover conservative/Republican/Libertarian/Independent/Anti-CC camps feeling betrayed and those in the Liberal, Democrat, pro-union, CC indifferent camps overly-aggressive and defensive. With my style of writing, and proclivity for writing passionately (maybe even a tad hot-headed), I felt it best to take some time off and simply observe interactions and outcomes and watch where people chose to align themselves.  I chose to disengage and cultivate my detachment. Being intensely involved with groups with objectives and their own points of view would have colored my opinions and hindered this process for me. Additionally, there was that whole 3 billion dollar budget deficit thing some of you might have heard of over the past few months.  I could see that was sucking all the air out of the room (as well it should have.)  That is/was a serious problem for our state with significant implications for k-12 and postsecondary education.

In this off time I have been working on some neglected aspects of my life that needed more attention than I was able to give while I was trying to run a political campaign and support a growing movement.  I still had a finite amount of time to do everything in my life, so some things just did not get done.  Without going into details, this caused a few personal problems I’ve had to clean up, and am still cleaning up.  I’m hoping a significant portion of that “cleanup” will be complete in the next month – which should free up some more time for me and other pursuits like blogging and activism because it seems like there are still many people without a voice or champion for their problems.

Yesterday some of the security folks and a receptionist at my office asked me a few questions about Common Core and the new LEAP tests.  They had seen my signs around town and seen me in suits over the past year and knew I had some knowledge of things in the education arena.  They have kids in public schools in various parishes so they have Common Core and PARCC tests too, and they hate them.  I don’t like to tell people my stand on those things until I hear their opinions.  (I try to gather opinions from folks without imparting my biases on them first.  I keep tabs on issues and how people from different backgrounds are feeling about different education policies.  Sometimes they have unique perspectives, and sometimes they tell me about new problems, benefits, or implications that are subtler and which I hadn’t heard about or considered before.  They asked me if it was true that Common Core was being replaced with something much better, like they had read in the newspaper.  They asked me about the new L.E.A.P. tests that the state was administering and if those would be an improvement from PARCC, or from whatever we had last year.  Sadly I had to tell them that those were simply name changes and that the content was likely to be 99% the same.

There’s still a lot of people that don’t really know what’s really going on.  I read about different aspects of the situation but I rarely see a cohesive whole discussed anywhere, or if I do it’s the slanted company line. I have seen some pretty good summaries on Michael Deshotels’ blog, http://www.louisianaeducator.blogspot.com (I strongly recommend it for keeping with the play by play education situation), but nothing in more traditional sources.

For instance, many people think Common Core is going away, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Common Core is more than a set of standards now. Now CC is an important part of the national Educational Industrial Complex.  Without something very drastic happening we are stuck with it and the silly garbage and explosive costs that go along with it.

Take for example this Common Core, Eureka Math worksheet below.

20160112_183605.jpg

This was one of the assignments given to my first grader from the only LDOE Tier One approved mathematics curriculum vendors (Eureka/Engage NY/Greatminds – they keep changing their name to outrun all the bad reviews on their product). It has complicated instructions I would imagine most first graders would have trouble understanding.  If they asked their parents about this worksheet (like mine did) they have no idea what these jargon laden strategies mean listed in the top right box (except for the helpful “I just knew”) answer.  What’s even more frustrating to both parents and children is that the examples are solved incorrectly.  The first one shows an equation of 13-6 = 4 and then provides work to back up the answer.  I tried several times to explain to my son that the first one was wrong, and to explain he was supposed to document this and show the correct answer, but he was confused by the whole process and examples and we both gave up after some frustrating back and forth.

I understand what the CC folks are trying to accomplish, but I don’t believe this is the right way to do it. . .  Unless their intent is to make math more frustrating and thereby dissuading future generations from going into fields heavy in mathematics. My son’s favorite subject used to be math, and instead of reading at night before bed he used to discuss mathematical concepts with me and try to practice doing problems in his head.  He especially liked discussing the concept of infinity.  We don’t do math anymore at bedtime – or any other time during the day.  His new favorite subject is reading.  On the one side that’s great, because he was lagging behind in his reading skills and needed to practice them more, but on the other, that seems like the exact opposite of what pro-CC folks are trying to accomplish.  However I guess I have them to thank my kids’ love of reading.  Unfortunately I have them to thank for their hatred of math as well.

Yes, both my kids hate math now.

My daughter is in third grade now and much of her math revolves around multiplication. Unfortunately Common Core did away with the memorization of multiplication tables and introduced putting hundreds of dots on pages to represent multiplication – through addition.  8 x 9 equals 8 rows of 9 dots instead of 72.  Fun, right?

Now try checking someone’s multiplication (or addition work) with those types of strategies using dots, or pictures like the ones shown above.  Or in this case, require kids to check problems using the strategies I’ve shown or discussed.  Watching paint dry is waaaaaay more interesting than that.  I do hear stories about kids that finally understand math the CC way, and love it.  I have to wonder though, are those the kids (like Olivia in the example above) that we really want designing the bridges, skyscrapers, and airplanes of the future?

This summer we will have to teach my daughter her multiplication tables, and probably cursive writing, ourselves.  Those are subjects that were removed by Common Core and not replaced by the revision committee.  Very little was changed by the revision committee.  The Louisiana committee that was created and assigned the task of reviewing Common Core standards and developing Louisiana standards from them was more than 90% composed of staunch Common Core supporters who simply wanted to provide the Louisiana seal of approval.  Of the few unbiased folks that were on the committee, many resigned in frustration, rather than continue to participate in a Kangaroo review committee created to solve political impasses, not curriculum flaws.

Eureka and Engage New York are not going away.  The tests used to evaluate students and teachers on how well student’s have mastered these “strategies” are not going away either.

President Eisenhower referred to a growing fascist flaw in our system of government he described as the military-industrial complex in his farewell address January 17, 1961. (It’s also sometimes called the military-industrial-congressional complex to be more precise in a US context.) The idea behind the MICC is a three-sided “Iron triangle” around which government policy is really determined outside of the influence of ordinary citizens. Industry provides money to political candidates, who in turn approve policies and spending that support and enrich industry. To provide industry and congress with cover a government funded bureaucracy is created and charged with “overseeing” and distributing the spending (this bureaucracy is led by political appointees who have the political goal of preventing others from interfering with this arrangement.)

Today we have an Educational Industrial Complex but unlike the military industrial one, it is not limited to Congress. In Louisiana this lobby invests in state representatives and senators, as well as State and local school board representatives. In many states, like Louisiana, the EIC has seized control of state departments of education and over the course of the last two presidential terms the EIC has entirely co-opted the US Department of Education.

No single election or committee can stop this perversion of government and industry, and their bastard children of, USED, Common Core, PARCC, Eureka, and Smarter Balanced. Until people start to understand just how deep and complex this problem is the EIC can’t be stopped, at best we can get a brief reprieve by diverting their flow of corruption.

 

 

 

LouisianaVoice reveals pair of frustrating episodes that reveal problems of state hospital privatization, closures

Our general funding to DHH has almost trippled over the last 6 years in the wake of Bobby Jindal’s hospital privatization scheme that included the legislature approving a blank contract submitted by the Jindal administration. Tom Aswell and his sources relay some examples of what we bought for so much wasteful spending. More taxing and spending can not fix this problem, only make it worse. Someone needs to take some responsibility here. Expanding Medicaid, as Governor Edwards is pushing for, in this environment can only lead to more waste – and and very likely more death.

Louisiana Voice

Bobby Jindal: the gift that keeps on giving.

It’s bad enough that colleges and universities are facing the threat of temporary closures, cancellation of summer school, and loss of accreditation. But coupled with the bad news on higher education is an equally grim outlook for health care.

A sample of the legacy left us by Jindal’s hospital privatizations and closures:

In Baton Rouge, the closure of Earl K. Long (EKL) Medical Center had a ripple effect on the low income residents of North Baton Rouge. The emergency room patient care shifted onto Baton Rouge General Regional Medical Center Mid-City became such a money loser that it closed its emergency room on March 31, 2015. That moved emergency room care 30 minutes further away to Our Lady of the Lake (OLOL) Medical Center, located in largely white South Baton Rouge. One emergency room doctor confided to the author that it was…

View original post 1,022 more words

Solutions to and Analysis of Louisiana’s Budget Crisis

I’ve been seeing numerous vitriolic statements from various folks recently assigning blame to each other over Louisiana’s budget crisis.  For those of you who don’t know, Louisiana is short approximately one billion dollars of general funding revenue. We have to make that deficit up over the next 4 months or we will start defaulting on our financial obligations.  Next fiscal year, starting July 1st, we are looking at a 2 billion dollar deficit.

Our entire general fund is roughly 9 billion dollars.  One outspoken critic, who has little room to talk, is our State Treasurer, John Kennedy.  Kennedy should have been warning us before things got as bad as they are.  Kennedy has been issuing numerous proposals to fix the current crisis, however many of the proposals from our Treasurer are based on misappropriating federal funds – like those allocated to welfare and food stamp recipients by the federal government, or involve inconsequential amounts that will take years of investigations to realize.

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The idea that “we should take care of our children before we take care of able bodied, childless adults” is a great philosophy and hard to argue with from an ethical standpoint. It also makes great talking points for Kennedy’s recently announced Senate campaign. However it’s an unworkable solution in that the money is not fungible (that money came with strings attached and it can’t simply be re-appropriated and used for any other purpose -any decent treasurer would know this) and because the funds involved are, relatively speaking, insignificant compared to the size of the deficit.

So while our revenues may be less than we budgeted for, we have no shortage of grandstanding around unworkable solutions for political points.

I’ve heard some folks blame our situation on “global markets” that are “outside our control” and the decimation of oil in the commodities market, but that didn’t create the problem.  Our revenue estimating folks were way off in their estimates and assumptions. Their estimates were pushed through by Team Jindal to make his budget "balance".  While that didn’t help, that’s also not the root cause for our current problem. 

The collapse in oil is terrible for us and it’s why our economy is falling into what will be a deep recession for many years to come, but we had an unsustainable situation even before that.  However, this collapse is just one more reason I think we should implement real permanent cuts to government rather than raising the sales tax to the highest in the nation – taxing the poorest people in the poorest state to turn around and provide benefits for them seems like a really horribly inefficient idea to me.

Still, what I haven’t heard is anyone identifying the true root cause of this fiasco. Complaining about something “outside our control” is a weak excuse.  We have known for decades that oil prices are outside our control.  This shouldn’t be something we just figured out last month.  If our government was a good steward of our state and tax dollars then it should have planned for the inevitable crash.

Unless Louisiana diversifies out of the oil and gas sector our fate as a state will always be tied to the booms and busts of the energy sector. We should to be stockpiling funds during the boom years to wait out the lean years – without having to resort to new taxes during recessions – when Louisiana can least afford it.  However, because of the ephemeral nature of politics and politicians, that will probably never happen.  Still, I’d like to make a point about what I’d like to see happen over the next four years.

The resources the oil and gas industry are extracting from public lands belong to the people of Louisiana. The people should be getting a better share of that revenue, at least during boom times, to keep taxes as low as possible.  Much of our government is controlled by the oil and gas industry, so we are basically at their mercy unless people start to stand up to them, but that’s another set of issues entirely.

I would also like to see us address the whole issue of 80+ year corruption scandal whereby former Governor Huey Long’s descendants continue to reap financial benefits from public property. That won’t fix the current year’s budget problem, but we have spent hundreds of millions over the years on the basis of what is most likely an illegal contract. It would be a nice start to show our government is ready to finally be good stewards of our lands and tax dollars by ending this boondoggle.

However I admit these are distractions from the root issue as well.

I decided to start looking at the problem as if I was making the decisions.  Initially I started looking at small agencies to nickel and dime some money from to equal a billion dollars but the budget figures are present as annual amounts. To actually address the problem we would have to cut 3 times that amount with only 4 months remaining in the fiscal year.

For instance if an agency was budgeted 1 billion dollars for the year, you would have to eliminate their budget for the remaining third of a year to save just 333 million dollars, only about a third of what we need to recover. To put this problem in perspective, the state’s portion of MFP is about 3 billion dollars. To fix this problem with just cuts you would need to stop all payments to all schools in the state starting March 1st until the end of June (assuming the situation doesn’t continue to get worse.)  Bankrupting every school district in the state is probably a bad idea as well.

As part of my own research I also looked at the feasibility of furloughing employees as an option.  I know people like to suggest this every year we have serious budget shortfalls.  Unfortunately the entire payroll for the state is 3.2 billion dollars.  With a billion dollar deficit and only one third of year to make it up, we would have to furlough, fire, or lay off just about every single employee.  About half of the employees are state college employees so that would mean immediately closing every single public university in the state – and probably result in looters carrying off whatever they wanted since we wouldn’t even be able to pay for state police or even security guards to oversee the campuses.  Since many of these positions are actually federally funded that would get us in a whole lot of legal trouble as well. So the solution can’t even be solved by sending state employee home for the next 4 months without any pay.

Things are really that serious, but how did we really get here?

Many people have blamed this year’s budget for the problem.  I still don’t understand what Jindal and the Legislature did this year to pretend to balance the budget while appeasing Grover Norquist and his tax pledge slaves, and I have a degree in Accounting.  Generally speaking you want financial transactions and budgets to be transparent.  The more financial wizardry you employ to make the numbers work, the more likely your spells will backfire and end up cursing you.  That’s why a lot of banks, financial institutions, and even countries (Merril Lynch, AIG, GM, Citibank, Lehman Brothers, Ireland) went bankrupt or had to sell off their assets in fire sales to kick off the Great Recession.

To add to the complexity of the situation and duplicity of our elected officials, many politicians were running for reelection this year and Jindal was still intent on his Quixotic quest for the Presidency. I think many folks just wanted to pass a budget and worry about the implications later (or let their successors fix their mess.) I know some legislators just wanted pass something with the knowledge Jindal would be gone after the elections and they might have someone less obsessively obstinate and deceitful to work with.

Well here we are, right where most of our reelected legislative incumbents left us. With his presidential campaign in the toilet, and the job he said he wanted officially over, Jindal apparently has nothing better to do than tweet cryptic and childish things at his political opponents.  I think that’s actually a fitting end for someone who may come to be known as the Martin Shkreli of Governors.

However the problem we are having now actually has roots much older than 2016.  Based on a review of the last 10 years of general fund outlays, it’s pretty obvious what happened when you get to 2010, when Jindal decided to privatize all our hospitals pay outrageous sums to private entities.  Sometimes privatization can work, but if you look at DHH’s budget for the last 10 years, you can see this was an example that clearly did not. 

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DHH was averaging a little more than a billion dollars a year in general funds.  After Jindal’s meddling that price tag skyrocketed to 2.7 billion today. It has been growing by leaps and bounds every year.  That’s roughly equal to our entire corporate and personal income tax collections for the entire state!

At the current rate of expansion, general funds for DHH might very well eat up our entire General Fund budget before Edward’s first term is even over.  Ironically, if DHH was still funded at its 2006-2010 average we would have had surpluses in Louisiana every year, including this one. Next year’s 2 billion dollar deficit would have been only a mild concern easily remedied with our vast surpluses. 

Our healthcare spending is killing us.

I can’t justify spending all of our taxes on DHH, or raising taxes to cover these ballooned and ballooning costs. Can you?  These privatization deals occurred while most of our current legislators were in power.  They did not do their job during Jindal’s reign of error. They let us down; perhaps gambling on following Jindal to a Federal role. . .

That didn’t work out for them, and certainly not for us. Now it is time to hold them responsible for their gambling with our future and the futures of our children.  I would recommend that the Governor’s office, State House, and State Senate take on the lion’s share (percentage-wise) of the necessary short term cuts to get us through the end of the year.  They allowed this situation to transpire with their negligence and they should literally pay for it before tapping any other agency. (The budgets for the House and Senate are about 50 million and the Governor’s budget for this year is 121 million so obviously more cuts will be required.)

However, in the long term we have to address the DHH situation and stop the profuse bleeding of our tax dollars.  Not only has the general fund cost for treating our poor tripled during Jindal’s tenure, we’ve managed to simultaneously close charity hospitals and emergency rooms across the state.  A double whammy of out of control spending coupled with less accessible care.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our state our Treasurer and State legislature put in a little more time monitoring our finances before we got into crisis situations like this one?  Maybe if they are forced to pay for their mistakes this time, they will be less likely to just go with the flow next time?

Instead of blaming, I’d like to see some of them finally accept some blame. 

Instead of demanding unrealistic cuts on others, I’d like to see them show some leadership by committing to some cuts to themselves first.  It’s easy to blame others, and cut others, but that’s how we got here in the first place. We won’t fix this problem doing the same things over again and expecting different results.  That’s either just crazy, or just a gamble we can no longer afford.

Jindal’s Meddling in DHH Caused Our Budget Crisis

I’ve been seeing numerous vitriolic statements from various folks recently assigning blame to each other over Louisiana’s budget crisis.  For those of you who don’t know, Louisiana is short approximately one billion dollars of general funding revenue. We have to make that deficit up over the next 4 months or we will start defaulting on our financial obligations.  Next fiscal year, starting July 1st, we are looking at a 2 billion dollar deficit.

Our entire general fund is roughly 9 billion dollars.  One outspoken critic, who has little room to talk, is our State Treasurer, John Kennedy.  Kennedy should have been warning us before things got as bad as they are.  Kennedy has been issuing numerous proposals to fix the current crisis, however many of the proposals from our Treasurer are based on misappropriating federal funds – like those allocated to welfare and food stamp recipients by the federal government, or involve inconsequential amounts that will take years of investigations to realize.

The idea that “we should take care of our children before we take care of able bodied, childless adults” is a great philosophy and hard to argue with from an ethical standpoint. It also makes great talking points for Kennedy’s recently announced Senate campaign. However it’s an unworkable solution in that the money is not fungible (that money came with strings attached and it can’t simply be re-appropriated and used for any other purpose -any decent treasurer would know this) and because the funds involved are, relatively speaking, insignificant compared to the size of the deficit.

So while our revenues may be less than we budgeted for, we have no shortage of grandstanding around unworkable solutions for political points.

I’ve heard some folks blame our situation on “global markets” that are “outside our control” and the decimation of oil in the commodities market, but that didn’t create the problem.  Our revenue estimating folks were way off in their estimates and assumptions. Their estimates were pushed through by Team Jindal to make his budget “balance”.  While that didn’t help, that’s also not the root cause for our current problem. 

The collapse in oil is terrible for us and it’s why our economy is falling into what will be a deep recession for many years to come, but we had an unsustainable situation even before that.  However, this collapse is just one more reason I think we should implement real permanent cuts to government rather than raising the sales tax to the highest in the nation – taxing the poorest people in the poorest state to turn around and provide benefits for them seems like a really horribly inefficient idea to me.

Still, what I haven’t heard is anyone identifying the true root cause of this fiasco. Complaining about something “outside our control” is a weak excuse.  We have known for decades that oil prices are outside our control.  This shouldn’t be something we just figured out last month.  If our government was a good steward of our state and tax dollars then it should have planned for the inevitable crash.

Unless Louisiana diversifies out of the oil and gas sector our fate as a state will always be tied to the booms and busts of the energy sector. We should to be stockpiling funds during the boom years to wait out the lean years – without having to resort to new taxes during recessions – when Louisiana can least afford it.  However, because of the ephemeral nature of politics and politicians, that will probably never happen.  Still, I’d like to make a point about what I’d like to see happen over the next four years.

The resources the oil and gas industry are extracting from public lands belong to the people of Louisiana. The people should be getting a better share of that revenue, at least during boom times, to keep taxes as low as possible.  Much of our government is controlled by the oil and gas industry, so we are basically at their mercy unless people start to stand up to them, but that’s another set of issues entirely.

I would also like to see us address the whole issue of 80+ year corruption scandal whereby former Governor Huey Long’s descendants continue to reap financial benefits from public property. That won’t fix the current year’s budget problem, but we have spent hundreds of millions over the years on the basis of what is most likely an illegal contract. It would be a nice start to show our government is ready to finally be good stewards of our lands and tax dollars by ending this boondoggle.

However I admit these are distractions from the root issue as well.

I decided to start looking at the problem as if I was making the decisions.  Initially I started looking at small agencies to nickel and dime some money from to equal a billion dollars but the budget figures are present as annual amounts. To actually address the problem we would have to cut 3 times that amount with only 4 months remaining in the fiscal year.

For instance if an agency was budgeted 1 billion dollars for the year, you would have to eliminate their budget for the remaining third of a year to save just 333 million dollars, only about a third of what we need to recover. To put this problem in perspective, the state’s portion of MFP is about 3 billion dollars. To fix this problem with just cuts you would need to stop all payments to all schools in the state starting March 1st until the end of June (assuming the situation doesn’t continue to get worse.)  Bankrupting every school district in the state is probably a bad idea as well.

As part of my own research I also looked at the feasibility of furloughing employees as an option.  I know people like to suggest this every year we have serious budget shortfalls.  Unfortunately the entire payroll for the state is 3.2 billion dollars.  With a billion dollar deficit and only one third of year to make it up, we would have to furlough, fire, or lay off just about every single employee.  About half of the employees are state college employees so that would mean immediately closing every single public university in the state – and probably result in looters carrying off whatever they wanted since we wouldn’t even be able to pay for state police or even security guards to oversee the campuses.  Since many of these positions are actually federally funded that would get us in a whole lot of legal trouble as well. So the solution can’t even be solved by sending state employee home for the next 4 months without any pay.

Things are really that serious, but how did we really get here?

Many people have blamed this year’s budget for the problem.  I still don’t understand what Jindal and the Legislature did this year to pretend to balance the budget while appeasing Grover Norquistand his tax pledge slaves, and I have a degree in Accounting.  Generally speaking you want financial transactions and budgets to be transparent.  The more financial wizardry you employ to make the numbers work, the more likely your spells will backfire and end up cursing you.  That’s why a lot of banks, financial institutions, and even countries (Merril Lynch, AIG, GM, Citibank, Lehman Brothers, Ireland) went bankrupt or had to sell off their assets in fire sales to kick off the Great Recession.

To add to the complexity of the situation and duplicity of our elected officials, many politicians were running for reelection this year and Jindal was still intent on his Quixotic quest for the Presidency. I think many folks just wanted to pass a budget and worry about the implications later (or let their successors fix their mess.) I know some legislators just wanted pass something with the knowledge Jindal would be gone after the elections and they might have someone less obsessively obstinate and deceitful to work with.

Well here we are, right where most of our reelected legislative incumbents left us. With his presidential campaign in the toilet, and the job he said he wanted officially over, Jindal apparently has nothing better to do than tweet cryptic and childish things at his political opponents.  I think that’s actually a fitting end for someone who may come to be known as the Martin Shkreli of Governors.

However the problem we are having now actually has roots much older than 2016.  Based on a review of the last 10 years of general fund outlays, it’s pretty obvious what happened when you get to 2010, when Jindal decided to privatize all our hospitals pay outrageous sums to private entities.  Sometimes privatization can work, but if you look at DHH’sbudget for the last 10 years, you can see this was an example that clearly did not. 

DHH was averaging a little more than a billion dollars a year in general funds.  After Jindal’s meddling that price tag skyrocketed to 2.7 billion today. It has been growing by leaps and bounds every year.  That’s roughly equal to our entire corporate and personal income tax collections for the entire state!

At the current rate of expansion, general funds for DHH might very well eat up our entire General Fund budget before Edward’s first term is even over.  Ironically, if DHH was still funded at its 2006-2010 average we would have had surpluses in Louisiana every year, including this one. Next year’s 2 billion dollar deficit would have been only a mild concern easily remedied with our vast surpluses. 

Our healthcare spending is killing us.

I can’t justify spending all of our taxes on DHH, or raising taxes to cover these ballooned and ballooning costs. Can you?  These privatization deals occurred while most of our current legislators were in power.  They did not do their job during Jindal’s reign of error. They let us down; perhaps gambling on following Jindal to a Federal role. . .

That didn’t work out for them, and certainly not for us. Now it is time to hold them responsible for their gambling with our future and the futures of our children.  I would recommend that theGovernor’s office, State House, and State Senate take on the lion’s share (percentage-wise) of the necessary short term cuts to get us through the end of the year.  They allowed this situation to transpire with their negligence and they should literally pay for it before tapping any other agency. (The budgets for the House and Senate are about 50 million and the Governor’s budget for this year is 121 million so obviously more cuts will be required.)

However, in the long term we have to address the DHH situation and stop the profuse bleeding of our tax dollars.  Not only has the general fund cost for treating our poor tripled during Jindal’s tenure, we’ve managed to simultaneously close charity hospitals and emergency roomsacross the state.  A double whammy of out of control spending coupled with less accessible care.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our state our Treasurer and State legislature put in a little more time monitoring our finances before we got into crisis situations like this one?  Maybe if they are forced to pay for their mistakes this time, they will be less likely to just go with the flow next time?

Instead of blaming, I’d like to see some of them finally accept some blame. 

Instead of demanding unrealistic cuts on others, I’d like to see them show some leadership by committing to some cuts to themselves first.  It’s easy to blame others, and cut others, but that’s how we got here in the first place. We won’t fix this problem doing the same things over again and expecting different results.  That’s either just crazy, or just a gamble we can no longer afford.

Letter to the Auditor

 

I recently received this letter from a friend named Mark Joyce, who has been getting very actively involved in Louisiana’s education scene and in particular the malfeasance at the LDOE.  (Mark has recently been investigating and publishing pieces about campaign financing for candidates in the Advocate and Louisiana Voice.)  After reading about the latest disgusting revelations that have come out about ReNew charter in New Orleans he apparently recognizes this systemic abuse and neglect is something we all need to be concerned about and he as written the legislative auditor to try and rekindle some interest in some of the auditor’s own findings as well as these latest developments.

Mark summarizes some more historical revelations about now LDOE and RSD have squandered precious funding over the years without any repercussions.  Local school districts are also dramatically impacted by the way our state has chosen to implement charter schools. This is putting a strain on local communities and school systems over the same time period that funding for local systems has decreased.

The State has devised a scheme whereby they essentially steal locally local tax dollars allocated to pay for public schools overseen by the local district and hand them off to charter schools that the state “oversees” (not very well if at all as the ReNew situation shows) and approve and which the local district has no oversight over.  In light of our state’s current dire financial situation can we afford to permit this systemic and commonplace incompetence continue?

 

 

February 3, 2016

Daryl G. Purpera, CPA, CFE

Legislative Auditor

1600 North Third Street

P.O. Box 94397

Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70804-9397

Mr. Purpera,

I applaud your office’s efforts to help ensure transparency and accountability in the use of taxpayer funds. With a budget deficit in the billions, there is no room for fraud or financial mismanagement.

The Financial Audit Services Management Letter issued December 21, 2015 by your office, highlighted the Recovery School District (RSD)’s inadequate financial controls for the ninth year in a row. As your office noted, “We determined that the prior year findings related to inadequate controls over movable property and inadequate controls over payroll terminations and overpayments have not been resolved by management and are addressed again in this letter.”

Problems are not limited to RSD; more generally, your audits have repeatedly shown deficiencies throughout the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE)’s financial systems. Problems with LDOE’s fiscal management of public money are pervasive.  The system lacks fiscal responsibility for both public and charter schools (within the RSD and elsewhere).

Charter school growth has added to the financial management and oversight problems for LDOE. The gaps are showing.  Some examples are highlighted below.

Recently nola.com reported January 29, 2016, on fraud in testing and special education at a charter school in New Orleans.

The former principals of ReNEW SciTech Academy in Uptown New Orleans were accused Friday (Jan. 29) of special education fraud, failing to follow federal special education law and breaking state testing rules. Louisiana Recovery School District officials said the principals, Tim Hearin and Alex Perez, snagged almost $320,000 in public money for the school in the 2014-15 academic year by artificially inflating special education services. They also broke numerous test security rules, including asking at least three teachers to look at testing books — one during the test itself — to improve future results.

These are special education funds. These dollars are precious.  Back in 2013, in your report, Louisiana Department of Education – Monitoring of Charter Schools, it was reported that three of the six schools that offered special education services either had excess charges for special education students or could not provide documentation of services provided to special education students. Obviously the issues around the management of these funds continue.

A rising financial issue that New York and other states are identifying is charter schools paying inflated leases for their buildings significantly above market rates. This is happening in Louisiana, also.  One example is the Mentorship Academy type 1 charter in Baton Rouge.

Annual rent is approximately $800,000 on a building (owned by an out-of-state Real Estate

Investment Trust) with an assessed value of $3.2 million. This equates to yearly rents equivalent to 25% of the building costs. More dollars for rent leaves fewer dollars for education.

Another example is Inspire Charter Academy, another type 1 charter in Baton Rouge.  It is owned by a company in Michigan that shares an office address with National Heritage

Academies. This site has an assessed value of $5.5 million and annual rent above $1 million.

Again, this money leaves state control and is not available for use in the classroom.  LDOE should have oversight systems in place to ensure that excessive amounts are not being paid in overhead at the expense of education.

Another example of lack of sound financial management systems related to the vouchers issued through the Louisiana Scholarship Program. This was highlighted in your report issued September 27, 2015, Prevailing Faith Academy May Have Used Scholarship Funds for Other Purposes.  The Legislative Auditor office uncovered this issue.  LDOE did not.

The issue of transparency, accountability and oversight is increasingly critical given that increasing amounts of local tax money is being diverted away from the control of local school boards without the commensurate growth in good financial management.

According to the most recent LDOE Minimum Foundation Program spreadsheet, over $242 million is expected to be deducted in 2015-16 from the state’s support of local schools and instead given to state-chartered schools, which effectively removes local tax revenue from local control.  This total has grown from $184 million in 2013-14.

Most of the local taxes transferred to the state for charters are in Orleans Parish, but the numbers elsewhere in the state are significant.  These figures include RSD but appear to exclude Type 1 (locally approved) charters. For 2015-16 the forecasts are:

• Orleans Parish will transfer $162,735,197 of local tax money to state control

• East Baton Rouge Parish School System:  $28,327,990

• Lafayette: $9,652,336

• Calcasieu: $9,599,131

• For the other 65 parish and city districts COMBINED, the total loss of local tax money to charters is $31,959,492

• The estimate statewide total diversion is $242,274,146

In the past three years, local education dollars rerouted from traditional public schools to charter schools rose by 39 percent in the East Baton Rouge Parish school district — to $28.3 million — and 73 percent in the Jefferson Parish school system — to $4.5 million, according to state figures (comparing the spreadsheet referenced above with similar reports from previous years).

These figures were reported in The Advocate: Critics say charter schools draining vital dollars.

Furthermore, it does not appear that either the RSD or the LDOE consistently audit student home address data to assure that school systems are having money transferred based on students who actually live in the districts whose local revenue is being taken away.

Regarding the distribution of funds, I have seen no evidence that the Superintendent has established systems to avoid the issue you reported in Louisiana Department of Education –

Monitoring of Charter Schools in 2013 that found that LDOE overpaid or underpaid half of the participating schools in academic year 2012-13.

Even parishes without charter schools are involuntarily contributing local tax revenue to support them.  “BESE is overriding local school board decisions in the name of choice, and the local district is left holding the bag,” according to Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association said just last week at a BESE meeting.

The LDOE Bureau of Internal Audit lacks the size, funding or independence to provide sufficient oversight to review both the public school system AND the new charter and voucher school systems in Louisiana. Results of these (any) audits have not been made public. Of course, there is an annual report from LDOE, but this presentation has been roundly criticized for lack of independence and the lack of any provision of data to an independent third party. For such a critical issue as education, the department does not provide de-identified data in any raw form.

In any case, the presentation does not provide the oversight envisioned by the legislature.

Finally, as LDOE reported, they stopped conducting on-site audits of charter schools in 2008 because of a reported “lack of resources”. Currently, charters self-report.

Obviously, LDOE under the current superintendent has not been responsive to the results of external audits. As you know, recently LDOE responded that they do not need to develop a more comprehensive financial management and oversight process; it “is confident that its current practice … is sufficiently comprehensive.”

Given the findings in the report coupled with the existing lack of oversight by the Department of

Education, we respectfully request that your office formally audit LDOE’s financial oversight of ALL charter-type schools and update Louisiana Department of Education – Monitoring of Charter Schools.

Adequate oversight processes are necessary to ensure that monies are spent as intended, in this case, for the education of our children.

Thank you for your time and thank you for all you have done for Louisiana.

To verify that this email has been received, please reply and acknowledge receipt. If I do not receive a reply in a few days, I will resend it as a certified letter. Feel free to contact me.

Sincerely,

Mark Joyce