Archive for category Education

Is Holder Starting To Realize What A Mess The Voucher Suit Is?

By Scott McKay via The Hayride

Yesterday, an announcement by the Department of Justice appeared to signal “an end” to its lawsuit against the state of Louisiana over the desegregation implications of the latter’s school voucher program. This item appeared at the Washington Post’s site

Under the supervision of a federal court, Louisiana has agreed to supply the Justice Department with data about its controversial school voucher program and to analyze whether the vouchers are re-segregating schools that are under federal orders to achieve a balance between white and black students.

In a letter Tuesday to House Speaker John A. Boehner, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik called the agreement a “significant breakthrough” in the standoff between Louisiana and the Justice Department over the voucher program.

Except the Jindal administration seized upon the DOJ’s media initiative and hammered it mercilessly…

Governor Bobby Jindal blasted the U.S. Department of Justice’s P.R. stunt today when the department sent a letter to U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner citing a legal motion that attempts to rebrand the Obama Administration’s legal challenge to the Louisiana Scholarship Program, but continues to seek to impede the scholarship program.

Governor Jindal said that despite the Obama Administration’s claims today that it is backing down from their opposition to the Louisiana Scholarship Program, the U.S. Department of Justice has not with withdrawn its request for an injunction prohibiting the Louisiana Scholarship Program from granting scholarships for next school year unless a federal court first approves parents’ decisions about where they want to send their children to school.

Governor Jindal said, “The Obama Administration’s latest maneuver is nothing more than a P.R. stunt. While attempting to rebrand its legal challenge as merely an attempt to seek information about implementation of the scholarship program, the administration’s real motive still stands – forcing parents to go to federal court to seek approval for where they want to send their children to school.

“The Obama Administration’s letter is disingenuous. The administration claims the state is suddenly providing information, when in reality, the information the federal government is seeking does not even exist yet. And they know it.

“The federal government is attempting to retreat in name only, but is not backing off its attack on Louisiana parents. The Obama Administration is doubling down on its belief that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. know better than Louisiana parents.

“The only real retreat is to drop the lawsuit entirely and move on from this backwards lawsuit that is trying to deny equal opportunity for Louisiana children.”

Jindal’s rhetoric was perhaps needlessly combative, but it’s clear that DOJ has gone from declaring the voucher program violative of desegregation orders and seeking an injunction stopping its implementation in 22 parishes for the next academic year to seeking…something else. Exactly what that is, at this point, isn’t clear.

The letter to Boehner came in response to a letter the Speaker had sent to Holder suggesting that he drop the suit. The Baton Rouge Advocate covers what was in DOJ’s response…

In its letter Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department reiterated it is not opposing the voucher program and is only trying to determine if desegregation orders apply to the program and whether the vouchers are harming desegregation efforts.

“To be clear, we are neither opposing Louisiana’s school voucher program nor seeking to revoke any vouchers from any students,” the letter stated. “When properly run, state and local voucher programs need not conflict with legal requirements to desegregate schools.”

The letter also added to Boehner and others that, “You should be aware that it is not clear that all of the new schools for which children are receiving vouchers in Louisiana provide opportunities that are better than or even equal to those in their old schools.”

The Justice letter specifically noted the case of New Living Word School in Lincoln Parish that initially had about 300 vouchers approved — ultimately receiving about 100 — and the school had no teachers or classrooms and only showed students educational videos.

The Justice Department said Louisiana has given vouchers this school year to students in at least 22 districts remaining under desegregation orders.

In court papers, the department said Louisiana distributed vouchers in 2012-13 to almost 600 public school students in districts that are still under such orders, and many of those vouchers impeded the desegregation process.

The department cited the example of an elementary school losing five white students because of the voucher program, reinforcing the racial identity of the school as a black school.

In another example, the lawsuit said a majority-white school in a majority-black district lost six black students because of vouchers, reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school.

What’s at stake here, clearly, is DOJ’s interest in desegregation orders which have no relevance in the 21st century in Louisiana. The fact is that most of the 22 parishes under desegregation orders are no less segregated now than they were when those orders were installed – not because of any racist motive by school boards or politicians, but because the desegregation orders have generally so impeded the proper function of those school systems that anyone who could escape the end product of those systems by fleeing to other systems or private schools, leaving the poor to wallow in what remains.

Which the voucher program seeks to address for those parents and children who want it.

It’s an absurd situation, and the optics of it – the DOJ is suing to keep mostly poor black kids trapped in failed public schools, in places where failed public schools are largely the product of desegregation orders the DOJ helped create, because DOJ thinks the desegregation orders are more important than the freedom to attend the school you think best for you and your child – couldn’t be worse.

To Jindal’s credit, he has worked the politics of the lawsuit to his and Louisiana’s advantage by going on every TV show and op-ed page he can in order to slam the Justice Department. John Maginnis notes, though with a too-dismissive take on the import of the voucher system, the benefit the governor has derived from the suit…

Gov. Bobby Jindal may call the lawsuit brought by President Barack Obama’s administration against the state’s voucher program “cynical, immoral, hypocritical and more,” but he’s got to love the big guy for it. Had the U.S. Justice Department not intervened, Jindal’s already-embattled scholarship program may have shriveled and faded in years to come, under funding pressure from the Legislature and legal challenges from school boards and teacher unions. Instead, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder snatched it from oblivion with the high-profile lawsuit that the governor is turning into a higher-profile political issue.

That Maginnis piece was written even before the DOJ’s strange pivot to an information-gathering posture. Now it looks obvious that, having created a firestorm on its own estate, Holder and his goons are seeking a way out.

They’ll never admit it, of course, but it’s hard to see the recent developments in the case any other way.

And the lesson for states like Louisiana who find themselves beset by thuggish legal actions from DOJ aimed at derailing policies the Obama administration doesn’t favor is to fight DOJ tooth and nail, and make the biggest political stink possible over the suits.

In Louisiana’s case, the fight could produce real benefits – namely, that there is a real chance the voucher suit could result in a lifting of some or all of the desegregation orders. Their effects at this point are as absurd as the DOJ’s suit to enforce them against voucher parents.

 

Obama’s DOJ Destroys all Semblance of Decency with Attack on Louisiana’s Voucher Program

The judicial assault by President Obama’s Justice Department on Louisiana’s school voucher initiative makes me shake with anger and sick with sadness at the Administration’s absurd contention that the program violates decades-old desegregation plans.

As Clint Bolick writes in his Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday, “The statewide program provides tuition vouchers to children from families with incomes below 250% of the poverty line whose children otherwise would attend public schools that the state has graded C, D or F. This year, roughly 8,000 children are using vouchers to attend private schools. Among those, 91% are minority and 86% would have attended public schools with D or F grades.”

Ninety-one percent are minority — that statistic bears repeating because by definition, the federal desegregation programs of the ’70s and ’80s were expressly designed to integrate minorities and whites in public schools. What possible difference could it make if the Louisiana program — or any other state’s program for that matter — accomplishes the same goal utilizing private, parochial, or charter schools?

Teachers unions and liberal lawmakers would say the answer is rooted in money. If public money leaves a public school, then teachers will have fewer resources and the schools will surely fail. Um, hello? The schools were already failing! That’s the very reason the voucher program was created.

Justice Department regulators say the answer is the resulting disproportionate ratio in those public schools as defined in the various desegregation decrees. What a bunch of malarkey.

The real answer is politics. Justice’s move isn’t based on any education goal or principle; instead the Department’s liberal lawyers are attempting to inject race into Louisiana’s program for the express purpose of scoring a political victory over a Republican governor who garnered bipartisan legislative support to take on the failing public school morass and provide opportunity for all of Louisiana’s children, regardless of their race or socio-economic status.

Let’s face it: Louisiana’s school-age children need any and all options available, given the deplorable condition of the state’s public education system. In 2012, 464 schools received a D or F grade by the Louisiana Department of Education. The children in those schools deserve the chance to attend better programs.

Ironically, as Mr. Bolick points out, desegregation and school choice should have the same goal. “Properly understood, desegregation and school choice share a common aim: educational opportunity. In its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court made that paramount goal clear, recognizing ‘it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.'”

Despite these words of wisdom from the high court, the verdict is clear — the liberals prefer racial ratios over educational opportunity for the very children they purport to champion.

#numbersoverknowledge
#decreesoverdiplomas
#lawyersoverlearning

The Mayor of New Orleans Has the Wind at His Back

Mitch Landrieu is presiding over a major economic turnaround.
by Adam Kuschner for National Journal

NEW ORLEANS—Among the many other changes unfurling in this town, its chief executive is another kind of break from the past. Mitch Landrieu is the first white mayor since his father left that office in 1978; to get the job, which he began in 2009, he had to assemble a broad-based, multiracial political coalition. The Landrieus may be a political dynasty in Louisiana (the mayor’s sister, Mary, is a three-term U.S. senator), but these are tough times for political machines in New Orleans, and Mitch has been able to slough off patronage awardees from city posts and contracts, inching closer to a meritocratic administration. He talked with National Journal’s Adam B. Kushner, a New Orleans native, about how the city’s economy is transforming, and how to make it last. Edited excerpts follow.

NJ There’s a sense of optimism I’ve felt in my reporting that I don’t remember from growing up here.

LANDRIEU Anybody who comes to New Orleans right now feels a palpable spirit of energy and hopefulness. They see physical manifestations of that transformation taking place in front of their eyes. You can see the medical complex going up, designed not just to take care of people’s health care needs or train doctors or do research, but also as a fairly aggressive step toward information and economic development. You take the smart thing coming out of the research and turn it into a product; we’re going to take the technology and transform it into a industry sector. The second thing is that we now have a working system of schools. We’ve redesigned the governing mechanism, and consequently you’ve seen the scores—which are what counts—begin to grow exponentially from the inner city. The achievement gap between kids here and in the [rest of the] state is closing rapidly. Graduation rates are now better than the national average, and that’s a structural change.

The people in New Orleans are not just deciding to build the city back the way it was. They’re accepting responsibility to build it the way they always wanted it to be. It’s amazing how many young people we have from around the country who are starting to create stuff.

NJ How do you build a knowledge economy? And how does it serve upwardly mobile New Orleanians who don’t have elite educations?

LANDRIEU Generally, we’ve been a place with a lot of raw material and talent and intellectual capital, and we’ve extracted it and exported it. Think of Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center. So if you want to have a knowledge-based economy, you’ve got to create the kind of jobs. GE Capital basically said, “I like what you’re doing down there.” They put 300 jobs downtown. Gameloft [which develops smartphone games] did the same. Pre- and postproduction film work is happening here now. All of a sudden, you’re attracting these industries, and then you’ve got to supply them with workers. Kids are coming to New Orleans and don’t want to live in the suburbs; they want to live downtown, so we have a construction boom, restaurants opening up.

NJ Are the young people who move here staying?

LANDRIEU Yes, they’re becoming citizens and leaders of New Orleans. I have a bunch working in my office right now. They’re moving into government, running for office, starting businesses. And because those jobs are here now, there’s a pathway to prosperity, a pipeline to success, through primary and secondary education, from college and tech schools to [knowledge-economy] jobs. You want to train people so that an older, African-American woman living in [a new, mixed-income development downtown] can walk down the street and have the job as phlebotomist at the new health center. You’ve got to train workers on the low scale, the medium scale, and the high scale. The same thing can be true about high schools and colleges.

NJ Violent crime here is 80 percent worse than the national average. Does that put a ceiling on economic growth?

LANDRIEU You have to know the difference between the crime rate and the murder rate. For the crime rate, we’re number 73 in the nation, meaning that major American cities are much less safe than New Orleans is. But the murder rate is 10 times the national average. Both those things are depressors, which is why we’re spending so much time working on that. Who’s killing, who’s being killed, where they are, and how to change that—it’s a complicated problem that has provided no easy answers for a long time. We hope, as the police department and the school system get better, and culturally we identify where the problems are, we can change it. But there’s no question that it has a negative impact. It should not be a ceiling. It is absolutely possible to change that trajectory. New York City did it; Chicago did it to a certain extent, though they’re having trouble now.

NJ How can you tell whether the gains in the tech and entrepreneur sector are lasting and will take deep root? These haven’t really begun to represent a major share of growth yet.

LANDRIEU When Forbes says we’re the most improved and best for jobs, when The Wall Street Journal says we’re best for business, something’s happening. [New Orleans was the most improved metro on The Journal’s “Best for Business” list last year, up 44 places from 2010. Forbes ranked Louisiana most improved on its “Best States for Business” and gave New Orleans the top spot for “America’s Brain Magnets,” attracting college graduates under 25.] They’re looking at objective data on a sea change of how a place operates. U.S. News & World Report says Tulane is the most popular school. All this stuff has nothing to do with culture and tourism and food. Now, seven years on, they’re beginning to see how change works.

NJ How can the improvements outlast your tenure?

LANDRIEU There’s probably no more important structural change for the future of the city than how the schools work. At some point, the governance of the school system has got to come back to local control [it is now administered by the state]—but not until we have absolute stability. We don’t have that back yet. When it comes back, the new school board must be designed as an oversight board of schools that are run at the site, where the principal has autonomy, where he can fire and hire based on merit, students are accountable, and parents have choices. Those are the kinds of inputs that will close the achievement gap.

This article appeared in the May 4, 2013, edition of National Journal.

Hey Louisiana, can you say, “Constitutional Convention”?

The next phase in Louisiana’s transformation, in my view, should be for state leaders in business and politics to convene a Constitutional Convention.

Each year that the state’s budget appears to have shortfalls in revenue, we are required to find new revenue (raise taxes and/or fees) or cut spending.  Unfortunately, in large measure because of our constitution, those cuts come from higher education and health care.

An interesting story about just one aspect of higher education in Louisiana was written this morning in the Baton Rouge Advocate, based on an “exit interview” with departing Chancellor Mike Martin.  Click here to read the full story and see his lead quote below.

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Sitting in his office a few days before leaving Baton Rouge last week, LSU Chancellor Michael Martin talked about what his legacy would be after spending four years leading the flagship campus.

“Louisiana doesn’t force you to earn your salary,” Martin said in an interview before his departure to lead the Colorado State University System. “The bureaucracy here prevents leaders from leading.”

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I LOVE LSU and bleed purple and gold, but I watch with amazement, and wonder aloud, when will enough well-meaning, smart people (from both sides of the aisle) finally say enough is enough and actually take action?

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Teacher Tenure

I can’t believe I’m writing this because two of my sisters are educators and so is my mother.  But I am.  I’m wading into the education reform debate and specifically teacher tenure.  As a general concept, it’s a bad idea.  There are no rewards for excellence and no consequences for failure. Our children deserve better than that outdated, union building concept.

However, before all the teachers gang-tackle me for my “ill-informed, misguided attempt at sounding smart”, let me say this.  Most teachers, on an individual basis, are awesome.  They care about their students, they care about the institution, and they care about educating.

Unfortunately, they are hamstrung by a federal bureaucracy that requires mediocrity, forbids creativity, and mandates that national student testing is the only way to measure teachers.  The union leadership loves this because it keeps them in power where they can negotiate “benefits”.  The teachers hate the testing but love the security.  Everyone suffers as a result.  We suck in math and science.  Even physical education (PE) is on a precarious path as school districts across the country are eliminating or limiting these programs.  No wonder we have a childhood obesity problem, but that’s a subject for another post.

Bottom line, unless and until the children come first, our education system will continue to fall behind the rest of the world.

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