by Elliott Stonecipher

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I am a strong and unwavering proponent of public education.  I always have been, and I always will be.  That doesn’t mean I support the existing Caddo Parish public school system – I do not – and it doesn’t mean some other model can’t work for some children and their parents.  It means that I’ve learned we would be very wise not to sell the family (education) farm to the prevailing political windstorm.  Every child, and every good and faithful-to-our-children educator on the front line – teachers, in-school administrators, and all their required support personnel – deserve protection during this storm.

The Louisiana legislature will convene in a month or so to take up Governor Jindal’s education “reform” package.  All public education as we have long known it will enter that fray as a seriously endangered species, even in school districts where it is functioning very well.  Attacks on public education will be wrapped in all manner of flag-waving rah-rah, but I urge you to listen carefully during those pep rallies for what you do and, more notably, DO NOT hear.

—  When the Jindal administration says “scholarships,” they mean vouchers.  Since vouchers, in the real world, aren’t necessarily a bad thing, why can’t these folk call them what they are?  Why is deliberate misnaming necessary?  Even more specifically, has the voucher program on which the governor is betting our – our children’s – farm proven successful?  At least two very recent articles from state newspapers suggest that, at best, the jury is still out.  (SEE New Orleans Times-Picayune article here, and The Independent Weekly article here.)

—  When these cheerleaders say “private and parochial schools,” many are winking and nodding and grinning at one another.  A simple question must be answered:  what part of “private and parochial” is actually for-profit private schools?  If this entire deal is really, as some believe, about diverting state taxpayer dollars from the public education Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) into the pockets of profiteers, we need to know that.  “For profit” is anything but evil, but it belongs in some endeavors and not in others.

—  When we hear a discussion of “accountability,” we should listen carefully, and then note that the Jindal plan does NOT include accountability for the for-profit private schools.  Those schools, somehow, don’t require the oversight that public schools do.  Gov. Jindal was recently outed on this point:  read a very important article from Mike Hasten with Gannett News here.

—  When these folks – who are, we must remember, riding a wave of relatively uninformed public support – talk about “charter schools,” we must listen carefully to see if the ones referred to are the not-for-profit version.  Anyone, after all, can call anything, anything – as we constantly see in the media and culture.  There’s always a reason to call an industrial drainage ditch a “creek” and that deliberate misnaming is almost always an attempt to sell us something we don’t want or need.

—  When we are told by these politicos – many of whom are only passing through Louisiana, longing only to be in Washington, DC – that all of this is only about “school choice,” we must be careful to hear which education models are, and are not, included in the list of “choices.”  Independent, community school districts – as are operating successfully in East Baton Rouge Parish – are not “choices” we are hearing from the political promoters of the governor’s package.  Is it a “choice” when the full might of a state government ignores it in their sales pitch?

—  When we are told that “funding has not yet been precisely worked out,” we should understand that the available pot of taxpayer money to pull any of this off is what we now pay in taxes for the public elementary and secondary Minimum Foundation Program.  This means a redirection of taxpayer dollars for “choices” preferred by certain insiders may well be the name of this game.  (Here is an important article from Mark Ballard at the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate on key aspects of this topic.)

—  When the subject is “teacher unions,” some educators are, and others are not, union members.  An article by Morning Advocate education reporter Will Sentell is helpful (see article here).  Members of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers are real and true labor union members, and some other educator groups are “professional employee organizations.”

In my home, Caddo Parish, a group of public education devotees are working long and hard hours to replace our failed public school system with independent – or “community” – school districts.  It took the teacher union about a half-second to attack this effort without so much as a clue about what the proposal might ultimately include.  Likewise, certain people who can only support “their” school are primed and ready to kill the entire effort if “their” school isn’t going to end up precisely as they want “their” school to be.  Success is a long-shot, but when and if we gain the support of representatives of all communities, then go forward with this plan, we will welcome all questions.

Everyone can believe two things:

(1)  There are hundreds of millions of dollars per year up for grabs here.  Most of that now goes to public education, and all of that is highly lusted after by beaucoup people, many of whom aren’t even in Louisiana.

(2)  When our governor told us he had “reformed” our governmental ethics system, he actually did just the opposite, gutting enforcement, and rendering the entire system an ineffectual embarrassment.  He did that so a double-handful of folks he needed to handle his stuff in the legislature would thereafter do as he said.  Each of them had “issues” with ethics complaints against them, many of which were active at the time.  Our governor was a hot national political property, and the deal he cut was – in his mind – a key to his chance to be on his party’s national election ticket.

Each time we buy into in the “hottest” political schtick out there, we get burned.

This time, our children are the ante and the bets in this political and money game.  That mean’s it’s no game.  That means we must question everything we are being told, and demand answers to everything the political spinmeisters and profiteers don’t want to answer:  E V E R Y T H I N G .

Elliott Stonecipher

For any reader who may not know, this and all other such analysis and commentary I forward to you has been done strictly in the public interest. No compensation of any kind has been solicited, offered or accepted for this work.

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