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Democracy Prep Founder and Thief, Seth Andrew, Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud.

On Friday, January 14, 2022, Democracy Prep charter schools founder Seth Andrew pled guilty to one count of wire fraud for stealing the money in three school escrow accounts totaling $218K. Andrew is scheduled to be sentenced on April 14, 2022. One count of wire fraud could get Andrew up to 20 years imprisonment.

In April 2021, Andrew was charged with wire fraud, money laundering, and false statements to a bank.

Andrew’s scheme is quite a lesson in how to methodically launder charter school escrow money that is not properly monitored by school authorities in the first place— critical misstep number one for the charter chain. Another critical misstep by Democracy Prep is that school officials allowed Andrew to retain a school email account even though Andrew was no longer associated with Democracy Prep.

So what does Andrew do? Over the course of more than a year– not days or weeks– Andrew is able to steal the escrow money for all three New York-based Democracy Prep schools between March and October 2019; create two fraudulent accounts at other banks; roll all money together from two accounts into one in November 2019; purchase a Certificate of Deposit that matured in May 2020 (which gains Andrew over $2K in interest on this stolen money), then move the money from the matured CD to the account of another nonprofit that Andrew controlled. (At the time, Andrew controlled two related nonprofits. One is Democracy Builders Fund, a 501c3 nonprofit with a name close to Democracy Prep and for which Andrew is listed as the only paid board member–$187K– at the time of his termination in April 2021, in the days following his arrest. Andrew’s other nonprofit, Democracy Builders, a 501c4 lobbying nonprofit related to Democracy Builders Fund, filed its 2018-19 return during the week preceding Andrew’s arrest. It lists no paid officers and is $300K in the red, with most of its debt “due to related party.” Its website is no longer in operation.)

Andrew and his wife, Lana Zak, received a reduced interest rate on their $1.8M mortgage based in part on Andrew’s depositing the stolen funds in fraudulent accounts with the mortgage lender. Apparently, the stolen money increased Andrew’s account balances over the necessary $1M for Andrew to be eligible for a .5% interest rate deduction rather than just a .375% deduction. Zak has not been accused of any wrong.

Below is the text of the press release from the US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, dated January 14, 2022. I replaced the generic term, “School Network-1” as used in the document, with “Democracy Prep, the name of the charter chain.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday, January 14, 2022

Former White House Advisor Pleads Guilty To Devising A Scheme To Steal $218,000 From Charter Schools He Founded

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York,  announced that SETH ANDREW pled guilty today to wire fraud, before United States District Judge John P. Cronan, in Manhattan federal court.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Seth Andrew, a former White House advisor, admitted today to devising a scheme to steal from the very same schools he helped create.  Andrew now faces time in federal prison for abusing his position and robbing those he promised to help.”      

According to previous filings in this case:

In 2005, SETH ANDREW helped create [Democracy Prep], a series of public charter schools then based in New York City.  In the Spring of 2013, ANDREW left [Democracy Prep] and accepted a job in the United States Department of Education and, thereafter, as a senior advisor in the Office of Educational Technology at the White House.  In November 2016, ANDREW left his role in the White House and, shortly thereafter, in January 2017, ANDREW officially severed his relationship with [Democracy Prep].

[Democracy Prep]’s New York based charter schools must maintain an “escrow account” that may be accessed only if the school dissolves.  Three such escrow accounts, for three New York City based-[Democracy Prep] schools, were opened by ANDREW and other [Democracy Prep] employees, at  “Bank-1” in 2009, 2011 and 2013.  As to each of those three accounts ‑- Escrow Account-1, Escrow Account-2 and Escrow Account-3 — ANDREW was a signatory and had access to the funds in them.  However, pursuant to the charter agreement, the funds in the Escrow Accounts were reserved in case the school dissolved, and the funds could not be moved by ANDREW, or anyone, without proper authorization.

After he severed his relationship with [Democracy Prep], on March 28, 2019, ANDREW entered a Bank-1 branch in New York City and closed both Escrow Account-1 and Escrow Account-2.  Bank-1 provided ANDREW a bank check in the amount of $71,881.23 made payable to “[Democracy Prep] Charter School” (“Check-1”) and a second bank check in the amount of $70,642.98 to “[Democracy Prep] Harlem Charter” (“Check-2”). 

The same day that ANDREW closed Escrow Account-1 and Escrow Account-2, ANDREW entered a Manhattan branch of a different FDIC insured bank (“Bank-2”) and opened a business bank account in the name of “[Democracy Prep] Charter School” (“Fraud Account‑1”).  To open that account, ANDREW misrepresented to a Bank-2 employee that he was a “Key Executive with Control of” [Democracy Prep] Charter School and supported that misrepresentation with emails sent to the Bank-2 employee.  ANDREW then deposited Check-1 into the account. Five days later, on April 2, 2019, ANDREW used an ATM machine in Baltimore, Maryland to deposit Check-2 into Fraud Account‑1. 

On October 17, 2019, ANDREW closed out Escrow Account-3 and received a check (“Check-3”) made payable to “[Democracy Prep] Endurance” in the amount of $75,481.10.  On October 21, 2019, ANDREW deposited Check-3 into an account that he opened at a third bank (“Fraud Account-2”). 

Approximately one month later, ANDREW obtained a check from Bank-2 for $144,473.29, which constituted the funds stolen from Escrow Account-1 and Escrow Account-2, and ANDREW ultimately deposited those funds into Fraud Account-2.  Five days later, ANDREW rolled the funds in Fraud Account-2 into a certificate of deposit.  That certificate of deposit matured on May 20, 2020, which earned ANDREW $2,083.52 in interest.  ANDREW then transferred the funds from the certificate of deposit — including the funds stolen from the Escrow Accounts — into a bank account held in the name of a particular civic organization that ANDREW then-controlled thereby concealing the money’s association with [Democracy Prep], and depositing the stolen money into an account under Andrew’s complete control.

*                      *                     *

ANDREW, 42, pled guilty to one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  ANDREW has agreed to pay restitution to the Charter School Network from which he stole.  ANDREW is scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Cronan on April 14, 2022.

Even though on Linkedin he is hiding behind the altered name of S. Aaron A. and has removed his headshot, Andrew is still willing to brag on himself, including being “founder and superintendent emeritus” of Democracy Prep, the schools from which he stole.

As one might expect, S. Aaron A. includes nothing about his experience with wire fraud, money laundering, making false statements to a bank, earning interest on stolen funds, or using stolen money to leverage a reduced interest rate.

Sentencing is April 14, 2022.

S. Aaron A.

___________________________________________________

Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Reddit: NY High School Student’s “Beyond Control” COVID School Experience

The following post appeared on Reddit on Wednesday, January 05, 2022, with brief update added on Thursday, January 06, 2022. Although the piece is written by a high school student in New York City and portrays attending school in NYC in the throes of omicron COVID, I can relate to much about this student’s experiences and perspective even as I am teaching in-person in a Louisiana high school. (We don’t have the testing, but we do have the herding of classes into larger spaces such as the gym, auditorium, and cafeteria.)

(Aside: Even as I am composing this post, NYC mayor, Eric Adams, is on CNN boasting of the abundance of testing available in NYC schools and that “we’ve proved that” having students in school is working.)

I Am a New York City Public High School Student. The Situation is Beyond Control.

I’d like to preface this by stating that remote learning was absolutely detrimental to the mental health of myself, my friends, and my peers at school. Despite this, the present conditions within schools necessitates a temporary return to remote learning; if not because of public health, then because of learning loss.

A story of my day:

– I arrived at school and promptly went to Study Hall. I knew that some of my teachers would be absent because they had announced it on Google Classroom earlier in the day. At our school there is a board in front of the auditorium with the list of teachers and seating sections for students within study hall: today there were 14 absent teachers 1st period. There are 11 seatable sections within the auditorium … THREE CLASSES sat on the stage. Study hall has become a super spreader event — I’ll get to this in a moment.

– Second period I had another absent teacher. More of the same from 1st period. It was around this time that 25% of kids, including myself, realized that there were no rules being enforced outside of attendance at the start of the period, and that cutting class was ridiculously easy. We left — there was functionally no learning occurring within study hall, and health conditions were safer outside of the auditorium. It was well beyond max capacity.

– Third period I had a normal class period. Hooray! First thing the teacher did was pass out COVID tests because we had all been close contacts to a COVID-positive student in our class. 4 more teachers would pass out COVID tests throughout the day, which were to be taken at home. The school started running low on tests, and rules had to be refined to ration.

– “To be taken at home.” Ya … students don’t listen. 90% of the bathrooms were full of students swabbing their noses and taking their tests. I had one kid ask me — with his mask down, by the way — whether a “faint line was positive,” proceeding to show me his positive COVID test. I told him to go the nurse. One student tested positive IN THE AUDITORIUM, and a few students started screaming and ran away from him. There was now a lack of available seats given there was a COVID-positive student within the middle of the auditorium. They’re now planning on having teachers give up their free periods to act as substitute teachers because the auditorium is simply not safe enough.

– Classes that I did attend were quiet and empty. Students are staying home because of risk of COVID without testing positive (as they should) and some of my classes had 10+ students absent. Nearly every class has listed myself and others are close contacts.

– I should note that in study hall and with subs we literally learn nothing. I spent about 3 hours sitting around today doing nothing.

– I tested positive for COVID on December the 14th. At the time there were a total of 6 cases. By the end of break this number was up to 36. By January the 3rd (when we returned from break) the numbers were up to 100 (as listed on the school Google Sheet). Today there are 226. This is around 10% of my school. As of Monday, only 30 of whom were reported to the DOE … which just seems like negligence to me.

– 90% of the conversations spoken by students concern COVID. It has completely taken over any function of daily school life.

– One teacher flat out left his class 5 mins into the lesson and didn’t return because he was developing symptoms and didn’t believe it safe to spread to his class.

I’ve been adamantly opposed to remote learning for a while, and thought that it was overall an unmitigated disaster for the learning and mental health of students. At the present time, however, schools cannot teach and function well enough in person. We must go remote.

**I should note that I wrote this on Wednesday.

Edit: I’ve removed the name of my school as it made me uncomfortable sharing such information, but I’ll say that it’s a specialized high school. This is occurring everywhere. I’ll probably reveal it on comments but I’d prefer for it not be in the body of the post.

Edit 2: NOTE — NOT TRYING TO BE DAMAGING TO THE SCHOOL FACULTY AND TEACHER STAFF. THEY ARE DOING THEIR ABSOLUTE BEST WITH THE CARDS THEY’VE BEEN DELT, AND ALL STUDENTS ARE APPRECIATIVE. ITS DIFFICULT FOR EVERYONE AND TEACHERS AND STAFF ARE REMAINING SAFE AND SUPPORTIVE.

Update: 40% of teachers are out today. They can’t even take attendance because it’s impossible. You can sit anywhere in study hall one chair apart.

My hope is that I can be present each day so that my students are not herded into the cafeteria. Finding a sub is now a luxury.

The custodian on our hall was out for the whole week. To assist the remaining custodians, who are pressed with trying to maintain our facilities despite missing custodial staff, this week I have been cleaning my own classroom as well as the girls bathroom on my hall. And since students are supposed to spread out more during lunch, the trash on campus is now also spread to areas where students weren’t allowed to eat pre-pandemic, including to the area behind my classroom. So, I have taken to cleaning that trash, as well. Bringing the situation to the attention of administrators makes no sense since they, too, are streched so thin in trying to keep the school operating amid incredible faculty, staff and student absences.

Wild times.

______________________________________________________

Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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“Right-sizing” All-Charter New Orleans Schools

New Orleans does not have enough K12 students to support all of its schools, which happen to be all charter schools. As a result, it seems that this charter-portfolio district will be undergoing a downsizing/restructuring, the initial plans for which will be revealed “in the coming weeks,” as Marta Jewson of the December 29, 2021, Lens reports.

Jewson notes that over 3,000 seats are currently not filled (47,000 students and 50,000 seats.)

The euphemistic term for potentially closing or consolidating some of New Orleans’ underenrolled charter schools is apparently “right-sizing.”

Jewson reports that having too few students affects a school’s ability to maintain facilities. This problem is old news for traditional school systems that lose per-pupil student funding when competing charter schools pop up in their districts. In the case of all-charter New Orleans, the competition for New Orleans’ too-few students is all charter-to-charter and has KIPP New Orleans CEO Rhonda Kalifey-Aluise saying, “It’s really hard to run an efficient building– you just end up wasting resources.”

Do tell.

Stability in a school district is not a goal of market-based education reform. On the contrary, “disruption” is the name of the ed-reform game; supposedly disruption and market forces somehow come together to foster parental empowerment and a “choice” situation in which the best schools automatically thrive and the less-than-best are efficiently weeded out as a result of empowered parents not choosing them.

The simplistic, smooth-operation fantasy noted above has never come to fruition in New Orleans’ “portfolio” district– one comprised completely of charter schools, some under the same management organizations, most authorized by the district but some authorized by the state (under the label Recovery School District, or RSD, with the true purpose of converting traditional New Orleans schools into charter schools) but none directly operated by a local, elected school board.

Having no consistent, centralized, publicly-elected oversight of a loosely-comprised school “district” creates many problems. First of all, the level of bureacracy is magnified as each school or small groupings of schools is under its own appointed board and management organization. It is therefore no wonder that in New Orleans K12 schools, more salary dollars for admin increased as salary dollars for teachers decreased. Lack of centralization also makes it unrealistic to track students who leave one school to be sure that they arrive at another school. In 2015, then-RSD assistant superintendent Dana Peterson admitted that he “didn’t know” how many students disappeared from the decentralized, RSD schools.

Then comes the issue of how parental choice translates into impractical outcomes, including the inability for parents to get their children enrolled in schools physically near their homes. Parents must apply for schools using New Orleans’ “OneApp” application process, which parents complain is opaque. In 2013, I wrote about the difficulty in navigating the OneApp, which left parents to mostly choose from schools graded D or F. Some schools institute additional acceptance criteria, such as special meetings and parent essays. Former RSD superintendent Patrick Dobard admitted in 2018 that New Orleans needed “more good schools.” Nevertheless, somehow, New Orleans’ white students seem to overwhelmingly end up enrolled in New Orleans schools rated A and B, so it is no wonder that New Orleans parents complain about the opaqueness of the OneApp process.

“Parental empowerment” seems to practically translate into “selective parental empowerment.”

By June 2018, all-charter New Orleans was once again under a New Orleans school board (as opposed to being under the state-run RSD). However, the schools still have that previously-mentioned extra layer of “portfolio” bureacracy. It seemed that the New Orleans Public School (NOLA-PS) district (as the new district is called) was primarily in place to investigate financial mismanagement and fraud, such as the “emergency revoking” of three charters due to financial issues and the 2019 Kennedy High School grade-fixing scandal, which resulted in transferring Kennedy and another school to another management org (that is, to a different, non-cheating, extra “portfolio” layer of bureacracy) and NOLA-PS instituting a new means of auditing student records.

Portfolio oversight can only truly happen outside of the individual portfolio entities– which bespeaks the need for a local board like NOLA-PS.

NOLA-PS’s having to “right-size” all-charter New Orleans implies that “choice” absent the oversight of district-level authority has somehow yielded a set of schools that is the wrong size for the city and that choice and the market cannot rectify the situation. Indeed, the added level of portfolio-model bureacracy is a glaring waste of money that shows that the portfolio gluts itself at student, parent, and taxpayer expense.

“Right-sizing” should mean “cutting the fat.”

Portfolio-level, each-school-an-island bureaucracy is the fat.

______________________________________________

Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Student Data Collector Aimee Guidera to be Next VA Education Secretary

On December 20, 2021, Virginia Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin announced that his choice for state education secretary is “education consultant” Aimee Guidera. In the ABC8News in which I read Youngkin’s choice, political analyst Rich Meagher commented, “We don’t know a lot about this nominee just yet in part because she is not a political operative. She is a data scientist.”

We don’t know much about this nominee, but let’s unequivocally label her a *data scientist* and not just a data collector.

The ABC8News article does identify Guidera as “founder and former chief executive of the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), a leading voice advocating for improving the use of data to increase student achievement,” a statement that reads more like the pro-data-collection sales pitch than perhaps the article author realizes.

Guidera holds no degree in data collection and analysis or statistics and research. According to her Linkedin bio, Guidera’s bachelors of arts is from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (public policy), and her masters is in public policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Nevertheless, since she founded and operated a data collection organization, Guidera is cloaked in presumed credibility as a student data expert.

For those who are sketchy about founder Guidera and her DQC, allow me to offer information from several posts I have published between 2013 and 2017 concerning DQC, DQC’s controlling nonprofit, Education Trust, and her connection to Common Core and ubiqitous Gates funding, among other market-based, ed-reform connections. Then, readers can decide whether they believe “education consultant” Guidera to be more “data scientist” or just a well-funded, well-positioned data collector.

As for me, I’m going with “well-funded, well-positioned data collector.”

Below are excerpts from my first post, “Data Quality Campaign: Encouraging States to Ramp Up Data Collection” (November 12, 2013):

Corporate education reform is designed to turn profits for privatizers. That said, in corporate reform, there are two huge money makers that will “outprofit” all other profiteering: standardized testing, and data sales and storage.

The two are inextricable. Consider the mandates for state participation in Race to the Top (RTTT). In order to compete for RTTT funding, states were required to demonstrate both a standardized testing dependence and establishment of a “statewide longitudinal data system.”

While the federal government insists that reform is being driven “by the states,” it is clear that the USDOE is actively clearing the way for reforms that it supports, one of which is the collecting of an unprecedented amount of data on America’s school children. Consider US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s January 3, 2012, revision of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to include the definition of the term “educational program”:

Amend § 99.3 to define the term ‘‘education program’’ as any program principally engaged in the provision of education, including, but not limited to, early childhood education, elementary and secondary education, postsecondary education, special education, job training, career and technical education, and adult education… (Emphasis added)

This, my friends, is the open door for education companies to gain access to student data. It takes little imagination to conceive how such profit-driven companies might easily couch their financial motives in terms of accessing data “for the sake of the children.”

This brings me to the featured organization of this post: The reformer-run, data management nonprofit, Data Quality Campaign (DQC).

Created in 2005 by once-National Governors Association-affiliated Aimee Guidera, DQC is described as follows:

The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) is a national, collaborative effort to encourage and support state policymakers to improve the availability and use of high-quality education data to improve student achievement. The campaign will provide tools and resources that will help states implement and use longitudinal data systems, while providing a national forum for reducing duplication of effort and promoting greater coordination and consensus among the organizations focused on improving data quality, access and use. 

Where there is need for millions to fund massive education data collection, there is Bill Gates.

Up to the time of this writing, the Gates Foundation has funded DQC $12.7 million.

The following excerpts are from “Common Core, Aligned Curriculum, and Other NGA/Duncan-decided Issues” (November 24, 2013):

In this post, I would like to offer information on the beginnings of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and its interconnectedness with other so-called reforms. I refer to three documents (all linked below) from June 2008, June 2009, and June 2010.

At the June 2009 Hunt Institute and the National Governors Association (NGA) symposium focused on the allocation of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding, Duncan and the governors decide to focus on four areas for education reform:

1. Common standards

2. Teacher performance (value-added assessment)

3. “Turnaround” of “low performing” schools

4. Building data systems.

As for the importance of collecting data, Aimee Guidera, founder of the reform-dripping Data Quality Campaign, was present to offer her reform-friendly advice and services:

Whether connecting teacher performance data to teacher preparation programs as in Louisiana, or identifying schools that are likely to need turnaround support, quality data systems and the capacity to use them effectively are key to meeting all of the assurances of the ARRA. Aimee Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, emphasized that governors need not start from scratch, but can draw upon successful state models. Collaboration among states, as well as interagency collaboration within individual states, is important as states continue thinking about P-20 data systems.

Next, excerpts from “Beware of Data Sharing Cheerleaders Offering Webinars” (January 2014):

Perhaps the most sobering component of the privatization push is its unprecedented demand for data collection (data “mining”) on American students. Data mining is not just an American issue. However, on the American front, two education activists have been at the forefront of the fight against this mammoth student data collection: Louisiana’s Jason France (here’s a great example of his writing on the subject) and New York’s Leonie Haimson (her is her testimony on student data/privacy issues in a September 2013 New York city council meeting).

(For those unfamiliar with the data mining issue, see this concise yet thorough summary on the WhatIsCommonCore blog.)

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes that there is “power” in data for “school reform”.

Indeed there is. The issue isn’t whether there is “power” in data collection and storage, and its potential sharing. There certainly is power. That is precisely why the public is wary of the federal push to develop statewide, longitudinal data systems.

The question is whether state and federal governments (and the privatizing interests nurtured by state and federal governments) should have control of over 400 data points per student.

As is true with any attempt to hand over the public to privatizing interests (i.e., the heart of corporate reform), the potential for exploitation abounds is this so-called “data storing/ data sharing” endeavor.

Those promoting the data collection want to assure those who will be subject to it that there is nothing to fear, that if handled properly, the mountains of data can only benefit those whose lives have been mined.

Enter the “reassuring” data sharing webinar. This is sponsored by the Education Writers Association (EWA):

Student Privacy: Lost in the Cloud?

Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014

3:30 p.m.

Free

As more school districts share data with parents and teachers, privacy advocates warn that they run the risk of violating students’ privacy. How valid are such concerns? Should parental rights trump educators’ efforts to track students? What should the federal role be?

Our webinar will look at these issues, with a particular focus on how the rollout of assessments linked to the Common Core State Standards could affect student privacy. Speakers include:

Aimee Guidera, Data Quality Campaign

Joel Reidenberg, Fordham University

Jim Shelton, U.S. Department of Education

Ben Herold, Education Week (moderator)

Space is limited — register today! 

To those who would isolate the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) from other reforms: This webinar maintains that CCSS, its assessments, and resulting data collection are a package deal.

Furthermore, notice the wording: Should parental rights trump educators’ efforts to track students? 

Got that? It’s the educators who want to track the students!

Now, know that the term “educators” is the fashionable disguise to hide those with either zero or arguably cosmetic classroom experience but who have inserted themselves into key decision making positions in public education.

It isn’t the teachers and local administrators who want to collect hundreds of data points and store these in some “cloud.”

In our upside-down, corporate-reform-shaken world, educators also means education for-profits and education philanthropists.

Guess whose “education stuff” dollars are all over this webinar?

Yep. Bill. Gates.

irst of all, it was Gates money that funded the inBloom data “cloud.”

Next, the sponsor of the webinar, EWA, has taken $2.7 million in Gates money since 2003.

Third, the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) has taken $13.5 million in Gates money. (In November 2013, I wrote this post on Aimee Guidera and DQC. Enlightening reading.)

Fourth, USDOE Assistant Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton used to work for Gates as the Gates Foundation director of its education division. Shelton is also a partner with the charter-market-creating New Schools Venture Fund (a connection to Education Undersecretary nominee Ted Mitchell) AND was a senior management consultant for McKinsey and Company (former employer of Common Core “lead architect” David Coleman).

Fifth, Fordham University professor Joel Reidenberg and others conducted a study on privacy issues and “cloud computing”… funded by Microsoft.

No one on this panel will offer strong cautions against massive data collection. 

Incidentally, no one on this panel will be subject to having the likes of inBloom “store” hundreds of data points connected to their lives in some unregulated “cloud.”

And so it goes in the world of corporate reform: Those cheerleading and strategically devising ways to entice “voluntary” participation/agreement are themselves removed from the consequences of their own advice.

Still more excerpts, this time from “On the Serving Platter: The NEA-TeachPLus Partnership” (February 2014) concerning DRC controllong entity, Education Trust:

Education Trust and Its Nonprofit Spawn

Education Trust is a privatizing entity run by CEO Kati Haycock. As previously noted, Haycock promoted the NCLB concept of gauging education success based upon student test scores. Haycock pushes “school turn around,” but only for select schools.

Haycock’s Ed Trust is heavily Gates-funded. Since 2002, Gates has given Ed Trust $41.5 million.

Over half ($22.8 million) was for “general operating support.”

According to IRS forms 990, Ed Trust is the “direct controlling entity” for three other nonprofits: US Education Delivery InstituteEdinnovations, and the Data Quality Campaign.

Thus, the nonprofit Ed Trust controls three other nonprofits. Edinnovations is just a shell– no money yet. The US Education Delivery Institute is functional; it includes the following mission on its 2011 990:

The US Education Delivery Institute (EDI) is an innovative non-profit organization that focuses on implementing large-scale system change in public education. Our mission is to partner with K-12 and higher education systems with ambitious reform agendas and invest in their leaders capacity to deliver results. 

Kati Haycock is secretary/treasurer for EDI.

Gates has paid $7.1 million to EDI, with $3.2 million devoted to getting the organization started in April 2010.

Next is the more intriguing Data Quality Campaign (DQC).  Kati Haycock sits on its board as a “director.”

The mission of DCQ as stated on its 2011 990 is to “encourage” the collection of student data:

To encourage and support state policymakers to improve the availability and use of high quality education data to improve student achievement. 

Gates has paid DQC $12.7 million, with $2.3 million devoted to operating expenses.

Finally, my most recent post DQC-related, ed-reformer-interconnection post, “The Pahara Institute Proliferation of Corporate Ed Reformers” (March 2017):

In 2012, the Gates Foundation funded Pahara Institute $2 million “to support the Pahara Institute and its two leadership programs, the Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship Program and a new emerging leaders program designed to accelerate the development of high potential emerging leaders of color.”

However, Pahara Institute’s primary “partner” is the Aspen Institute, also a major vehicle for advancing corporate education reform ideas. (I wrote a chapter about the Aspen Institute in my first book, A Chronicle of Echoes, including its history and mammoth annual event, the Aspen Ideas Festival.)

Note that the Gates Foundation is a major funder of the Aspen Institute (over $94 million since 2002), which, in turn, is the primary “partner” of Pahara Institute. However, the Aspen-Pahara fiscal connection becomes murky as Pahara Institute is not mentioned on the Aspen Institute tax form and vice-versa.

The first cohort of Pahara fellows (2007) included the following corporate ed reformers (bio links from main link above are rich with corp ed reform connections):

Russlyn Ali, Managing Director of Ed Fund, Emerson Collective

Chris Barbic, Founding (former) Superintendent, Tennessee Achievement District

Richard Barth, CEO, KIPP Foundation

Michael Bennet, US Senator (Colorado)

Susan Colby, Partner, McKinsey and Company

John Deasy, Former Los Angeles Superintendent, now with The Broad Center

Kaya Henderson, Former DC Chancellor

Jon Schnur, Co-leader, New Leaders for New Schools

Jim Shelton, Former Ed Program Director, Gates Foundation

Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach for America

Some more Pahara fellows from other years:

Ben Austin, Founder, Parent Revolution (2014)

Tom Boasberg, Superintendent, Denver Public Schools (2013)

Chaka Booker, Managing Director, the Broad Center (2015)

Derrell Bradford, Exec. VP and Exec. Director, NYCAN, 50CAN (2016)

–Jean-Claude Brizard, Former CEO, Chicago Public Schools (2010)

Chris Cerf, Superintendent, Newark Public Schools (2016)

Deborah Gist, former Rhode Island Commissioner of Ed and current Superintendent, Tulsa Public Schools (2013)

Aimee Guidera, Founder and Exec. Director, Data Quality Campaign (2013)

Keri Hoyt, Chief Operating Officer, Success Academy Charter Schools (2014)

Shavar Jeffries, President, Democrats for Education Reform (2017)

Michael Johnston, Colorado State Senator (2013)

Neerav Kingsland, Former CEO, New Schools for New Orleans (2013)

Patricia Levesque, CEO/Exec. Director, Foundation for Excellence in Education (2013)

Marc Porter Magee, Founder, 50CAN (2014)

Deborah McGriff, Partner, NewSchools Venture Fund (2013)

Kira Orange-Jones, Executive Director of Teach for America, New Orleans (2010)

Dana Peterson, Deputy Superintendent, New Orleans Recovery School District (2013)

Margaret (Macke) Raymond, Founder and Director, CREDO (2017)

Caroline Roemer (Shirley), Exec. Director, La. Assn. of Public Charter Schools (2012)

Stefanie Sanford, Former Director at the Gates Foundation, now with The College Board (2011)

Laura Slover, CEO, PARCC (2013)

Andy Smarick, Partner, Bellwether Education, and Member, Maryland Board of Education (2010)

Preston Smith, Co-founder, Rocketship Education (2010)

Daniel Weisberg, CEO, The New Teacher Project (2016)

Aimee Guidera is an established, market-based ed reformer. Her degrees are removed from the K12 classroom. Her experience is also removed from the K12 classroom. Her professional history is as a Bill Gates prop for student data collection. She is connected to failed, test-score-driven education policies such a s No Child Left Behind and Common Core. She holds no degrees in data collection and analysis or statistics and research, but she is happy to push states to collect student data.

Guidera is no data scientist. She is a student data collection advocate. In her most recent gig (as of June 2018), she formed her own consulting business using a Minnesota residential address and declared herself president. Now, she is to be in charge of education in Virginia. (Guidera’s Linkedin bio has her operating out of Minnesota since 2017 at a residential address since 2018, but the residence is not a homestead according to Hennepin County tax records for 2020.)

Youngkin says Guidera as VA ed sec “removes politics from the classroom” and that “she understands that parents matter.” It sounds nice, but Guidera pushes for student data collection; she has taken millions in Gates funding via her DQC, and she is notably connected to Common Core– all of which are politically-loaded issues that have riled up parents in the past and not likely to make Guidera a favorite among Virginia parents.

Aimee Guidera

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Louisiana BESE Member, Kira Orange-Jones, Bought a House in South Carolina– a Year Ago.

Where does Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member and Teach for America (TFA) executive, Kira Orange-Jones, reside?

Well, as of December 31, 2020, she owns a house in Charleston, South Carolina, so that residency question becomes all that much more important to answer for a member of Louisiana’s state school board.

I have been questioning Orange-Jones’ residency for years. Orange-Jones, who married former New Mexico interim superintendent, Christopher Ruskowski, in October 2016, is also notorious for her sloppy, delinquent ethics filings. In fact, three days after I last wrote about Orange-Jones’ being years in arrears on her filings (posted 05/28/21), Orange-Jones filed her 2019 and 2020 reports (filed 05/31/21).

What Orange-Jones fails to acknowledge in her 2020 financial disclosure is that on December 31, 2020, she and husband Christipher Ruskowski puchased a house in South Carolina:

SC property search result Christopher Ruszkowski and Kira Orange:

Current Owner:

RUSZKOWSKI CHRISTOPHER N

ORANGE KIRA L

1338 SEA BASS COVE

CHARLESTON SC 29412

Sale date: 12/31/20

Purchase price: $745,000

Ruszkowski and Orange-Jones’ Charleston, SC, House (center)

Even though Orange-Jones clearly purchased this SC home with husband Christopher Ruszkowski in 2020, and even though her 2020 financial disclosure explicitly requires that she list “immovable property,” what Orange-Jones instead chose to do for this section is falsely check the box, “Check if not applicable.”

Here is what “immovable property,” is as defined in Louisiana law:

Immovable property” means all things fixed and immovable by nature, destination or object, or disposition of law, whether owned or leased for a definite and specific term stated or which are continuously used or operated in Louisiana, including, but not limited to land, real estate, depots and station houses…

Orange-Jones’ 2020 financial filing omitting her SC house

One more time: Orange-Jones fails to disclose the purchase of her SC house on her 2020 personal financial disclosure. For Section E: Immovable Property, Orange Jones checked the box labeled, “Check if not applicable.” However, Orange Jones submitted this filing on 05/31/21, five months after she and husband Ruskowski closed on their SC house.

Orange-Jones needs to formally answer to the Louisiana public regarding whether she is residing in that SC house and why she tried to keep the purchase hidden from her Louisiana constituent; she needs to be formally censured, not only for this latest questionable action but also for the summation of her failure to file timely financial disclosures for years, failure to file her taxes in a timely manner, and failure to attend approximately one in three BESE meetings.

Finally, if upon investigation, Orange-Jones is found to be residing outside of her BESE district, she needs to be removed and replaced. As it is, the message that the the Louisiana Board of Ethics is sending the Louisiana public is that Orange-Jones can behave as sloppily and opaquely as she likes, substantive consequence be damned.

Enough is enough.

Kira Orange-Jones, who lives where?

________________________________________________

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Oxford, MI, School Shooting: Parents Damn Well Should be Charged.

I often find myself constructing scenarios in my head in which I am strategizing on how I would protect my students– especially how I would help them successfully escape from my classroom– if a shooter were on our campus. I doubt that I am alone in such mental tasks concerning this grievous state of gun violence in American K12 education.

On Tuesday, November 30, 2021, I was saddened but not surprised to hear yet another school shooting in the news, this time in Oxford, Michigan.

I cannot reconcile how the simultaneous political messaging for gun rights and parental rights includes no attached, substantial push for the reality that with rights come responsibility.

Parental rights, parental responsibility. Gun rights, gun responsibility.

Rightwing-funded Moms for Liberty but no attendant Moms for Responsibility.

Michigan billionaire and former US ed secretary Betsy DeVos loves to parrot the message that “parents know what is best for their children,” but if that were true (and responsibly acted upon), then 15-year-old Michigan shooter Ethan Crumbley could have certainly been prevented from killing several people, wounding others, and traumatizing his school and others around the nation had his parents acted responsibly.

When your child’s school calls you in for a conference because the child for whom you just purchased a handgun is doodling on his school work about “blood everywhere, my life is useless, the world is dead” as a responsible parent, you take your son home and check to see if the gun you just bought– and that you know is in an unlocked drawer– is indeed at home. Better still, you ask your son if he has a gun at school, and you check his bookbag yourself. If no gun is found, then you take him home and check to see if the gun you bought him is missing. If it is, you find and secure the gun (preferrebly removing it from the home now that you know your child is having homicidal ideation), and you get your child into counseling.

At least take the rest of the day off of work to talk to your son.

But, no. Instead, yet another school shooting transpires in America.

As responsible parents knowing your son has access to a gun that you do not know for sure is at home is you do not choose to leave your child at school.

What you do not do is call 9-1-1 about a missing gun only after your child’s school has notified you of an active shooter on campus.

And while your son sits in jail charged as an adult for killing four people with the gun you bought for him after you incompetently ignored warnings and exercised no responsible precautions, you do not run from facing the consequences of your poor choices by fleeing from the law as your lawyer tells the world you did so for your own safety when you had no concern for the saftey of the now dead, wounded, and traumatized.

In case readers need a more detailed timeline of the events surrounding the Crumbleys and the Oxford (MI) High School shooting, below are details as published by the December 05, 2021, Associated Press (AP):

Friday, Nov. 26: James Crumbley buys a 9mm Sig Sauer from Acme Shooting Goods in Oxford, according to Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald. His 15-year-old son Ethan later posts a photo on Instagram of himself holding the semi-automatic handgun, writing: “Just got my new beauty today. SIG SAUER 9mm. Any questions I will answer.” He includes an emoji of a smiling face with heart eyes.

Saturday, Nov. 27: Jennifer Crumbley writes on social media that it is a “mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present,” the prosecutor says.

Monday, Nov. 29: A teacher sees Ethan, a sophomore at Oxford High, searching online for ammunition with his cellphone during class and reports it to school officials, McDonald says. Ethan meets with a school counselor and another staff member. He says he and his mother recently went to a shooting range and that shooting sports are a family hobby, according to Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne.

School personnel call his mother, leave a voicemail and email her. She does not respond. While exchanging text messages with her son, she writes: “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”

That night, Ethan Crumbley records a video in which he discusses killing students, according to sheriff’s Lt. Tim Willis.

Tuesday, Nov. 30: A teacher finds a note on Ethan’s desk that alarms her enough to take a photo, the prosecutor says. It includes a drawing of a handgun and the words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” Also depicted is a bullet with the words “blood everywhere” above a person who appears to have been shot twice and is bleeding. A laughing emoji is drawn below the figure. The note also says “my life is useless” and “the world is dead.” The teacher reports the information to school counselors and the dean.

A counselor removes Ethan from the classroom and takes him to the office with his backpack. The counselor obtains the drawing, but Ethan has already scratched out portions. He says the drawing is part of a video game he is designing and that he wants a career as a video game designer, the superintendent says.

The parents are summoned to the school for a meeting that occurs around 10 a.m. While the school tries to reach them, Ethan remains in the office for an hour-and-a-half as counselors continue to observe and speak with him, Throne says. Ethan expresses concern about missing homework assignments and asks for his science homework, which he works on while waiting. The counselors do not believe he will harm others based on his behavior, demeanor and responses, according to the superintendent.

The parents arrive and are shown the note. The counselors ask Ethan about his potential for self-harm or harming others. They again conclude he is not a risk due to his answers, which are affirmed by the parents. The parents are advised that they are required to get him counseling within 48 hours or the school will contact Children’s Protective Services. They refuse a request to take their son home for the day and leave without him, apparently to return to work, Throne says. He returns to the classroom rather than go “home to an empty house,” which the superintendent says is because he had no prior disciplinary infractions.

About 12:51 p.m., Ethan emerges from a bathroom with the gun his father bought four days before. He fires at students in the hallway, killing four and wounding six students and one teacher. Deputies capture him within minutes of the shooting. When news of an active shooter becomes public, Jennifer Crumbley texts her son at 1:22 p.m.: “Ethan don’t do it.” Fifteen minutes later, at 1:37 p.m., James Crumbley calls 911 to report that a gun was missing from his house and he believes his son may be the shooter. The gun had been kept unlocked in a drawer in the parents’ bedroom, McDonald says.

Wednesday, Dec. 1: Ethan is charged as an adult with murder and terrorism.

Friday, Dec. 3: James and Jennifer Crumbley are charged with involuntary manslaughter. Authorities cannot find them, and a manhunt is launched.

Saturday, Dec. 4: The Crumbleys are arrested around 1:30 a.m. after being caught hiding at a commercial building in Detroit. They enter not guilty pleas during a Zoom hearing, and a judge sets bond at $500,000 for each.

The superintendent announces there will be a third-party review of all events in the past week because the community and families “deserve a full, transparent accounting of what occurred.”

Absolutely, there should be a review of the action of school authorities. Did they responsibly follow prodecure? Should they have insisted that Ethan be removed immediately from the school grounds given that they imposed required counseling for the student?

However, the greater issue here is that Ethan Crumbley’s parents appear grossly and recklessly irresponsible for not directly telling school officials, “We just bought Ethan a gun, and we cannot in this moment verify that the gun is indeed at our home.”

It is right that James and Jennifer Crumbley face charges for their roles in enabling their son to murder, harm, and terrorize his high school, and I will tell you, as a K12 teacher who engages in mental exercises on saving my students from dying of gunshot wounds in my classroom, I was danm well pleased to hear Oakland County, Michigan, prosecutor Karen McDonald, formally charge James and Jennifer Crumbley with involuntary manslaughter. Below are excerpted responses from her December 03, 2021, press conference:

While the shooter was the one who entered the high school and pulled the trigger, there are other individuals who contributed to the events on Nov. 30. And it is my intention to hold them accountable as well. It’s imperative we prevent this from happening again. No other parent or community should have to live through this nightmare.

Gun ownership is a right. And with that right comes great responsibility.

I want to be really clear that these charges are intended to hold individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable and also send a message that gun owners have a responsibility. When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences. 

We need to do better in this country. We need to say enough is enough, for our kids, our teachers, parents and all of us in this community and the communities across this nation.

I have tremendous compassion and empathy for parents who have children who are struggling and at risk for whatever reason. And I am, by no means, saying that an active shooter situation should always result in a criminal prosecution against parents. But the facts of this case are so egregious — reading this document, looking at it, reading the words, ‘Help me’ with a gun, blood everywhere. This doesn’t just impact me as a prosecutor and a lawyer, it impacts me as a mother. The notion that a parent could read those words and know that their son had access to a deadly weapon that they gave him is unconscionable and I think criminal. It is criminal.

When you give your child access to a deadly weapon, when you indicate that you’re buying a weapon and you sign that it’s for yourself, yet — clearly, based on the statements of the shooter, the statements of mom — that was his gun. Then we have the searching of ammunition. We have mom saying, ‘At least you didn’t get caught.’ We have, the next morning, drawing essentially, almost explicitly, what he was about to do. I expect parents and everyone to have humanity and to step in and stop a potential tragedy.

They (parents) did not indicate to school officials, or to their son, and inquire about the whereabouts of the gun, or the existence of the gun, to my knowledge.

He (suspect) was not removed from the school. He was returned back to class with his backpack, where we have reason to believe the gun was stored in the backpack.

I have spoken to the (victims’) parents and indicated the nature of the charges that might be coming. I have not spoken about the school. These people are in incredibly deep, horrific pain and grief. Their reaction is as you expect. They will want anyone who had the opportunity to stop this from happening to have done it.

There was absolute reason to believe this individual was dangerous and disturbed.

Michigan’s laws are woefully inadequate. We don’t have have a safe storage law. You’re not legally required to store your weapon in a safe manner. … We don’t have strong enough laws.

There were a lot of things that could have been so simple to prevent. And, yes, there was a perfectly executed response and he was apprehended immediately. And we have great law enforcement and good training. But … four kids were murdered and then seven more injured. So, so yes, I think we should all be very angry and we should take a very hard look at what is in place in terms of criminal responsibility, what gun owners are required to do.

I am not here to say that people shouldn’t own guns. I know a lot of people who own guns, but they do so responsibly. And it’s your responsibility, it’s your duty, to make sure that you don’t give access to this deadly weapon to somebody that you have reason to believe is going to harm someone.

It is our position that, on that morning, particularly that morning, but also the day before, but that morning, looking at that drawing, it’s impossible not to conclude that there was a reason to believe he was going to hurt somebody.

Parental rights, parental responsibility. Gun rights, gun responsibility.

Ethan, Jennifer, and James Crumbley

_______________________________________________________

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La. BESE Initiates Investigation of LDOE Contracts; Supt. Brumley “Miffed.”

According to the November 22, 2021, Advocate, on November 11, 2021, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), headed by president Sandy Holloway, requested that Louisiana legislative auditor (LLA) Mike Waguespack conduct an investigative audit of emergency contracts issued by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), headed by state superintendent Cade Brumley.

Holloway’s concern stems from being blindsided by the news that Brumley issued a $120K contract (linked below) without BESE approval to a newly-formed consulting firm headed by an assistant superintendent in East Baton Rouge (EBR) parish, Sharmayne Rutledge. Rutledge’s consulting firm, Invicta Consulting, was formed on August 02, 2021. Rutledge did not resign as EBR assistant superintendent until the first week of November (which happens to be the week that Holloway found out.)

Furthermore, it seems that in October 2021, Brumley did present BESE with a request for a second contract with Invicta Consulting, this one for $222K. However, BESE did not know that Brumley had already contracted with Invicta Consulting for the first contract for $120K (that is, without required BESE approval).

Brumley’s chief of staff, Quentina Timoll, called Holloway about the contract, and that is when Holloway found out about it. From the November 09, 2021, Advocate, as published by KTBS.com:

Holloway said she got an unexpected call Friday (11-05-21) from Brumley’s chief of staff, Quentina Timoll, asking about the agreement.

She said she told Timoll contracts are typically supposed to go through the BESE office and that a written description of the agreement is prepared for her to review before making a decision. The delay means BESE will not vote on the agreement until its Dec. 14-15 meeting, about two weeks before the contract is set to expire.

Officials familiar with the process said the way the contract has unfolded is unusual and may be indicative of larger problems, including concerns that other agreements have been handled in haphazard ways that require changes.

So, even though Brumley might be “clearly miffed” that Holloway requested that his issuance of emergency contracts be formally investigated by LLA, the facts rest squarely on the side of Holloway’s and BESE’s being miffed, not Brumley:

  • 08-02-21: Rutledge forms Invicta Consulting while still employed as EBR assistant superintendent.
  • 09-15-21: Rutledge signs $120K contract between LDOE and Invicta Consulting.
  • 09-17-21: Timoll docusigns contract.
  • Second contract approved by BESE during October 12-13, 2021, meeting. BESE does not know of first contract (and does not seem to know that Invicta Consulting is run by a district-level assistant superintendent).
  • 10-26-21: Brumley docusigns first LDOE-Invicta contract. Holloway still does not know.
  • Line for BESE president’s signature for contracts over $50K remains blank (likely the reason for Timoll’s call to Holloway).
  • 10-31-21: First of two $60K payments due to Invicta Consulting for first contract. Holloway still does not know.
  • 11-05-21: Timoll calls Holloway. Rutledge resigns as EBR superintendent this week.
  • 11-11-21: BESE, led by Holloway, requests audit of Brumley’s LDOE emergency contracts.

Brumley hid the first contract from BESE even as he pitched the second one. After the second was approved, he signed the first. Why follow this course of action unless the purpose is to dupe BESE and whitewash the first contract to make it slide through as legitimate?

Why, indeed.

LDOE-Invicta Contract Missing Holloway’s Signature

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Louisiana: District Lobbies Against Adequate Funds for Its School Bus Drivers

On November 13, 2021, the school district for which I work, St. Tammany Parish Public Schools, barely passed the ten-year millage renewal that provides 25% of the district’s operating budget and that have been in place since 1966 and 1977 in the form of four millages.

I was surprised how close the millage came to failing. Final votes in 2021 for the four millages can be seen here; the votes were 53-54% in favor– which means 46-47% against renewal.

Loss of this funding would have surely crippled St. Tammany Schools. I spoke with my longtime friend and colleague, Brant Osborn, about the close vote. He said that had the millages failed, the most likely expense to hit the chopping block would have been retirement benefits: “Think about it. Retired employees are no longer working, and all efforts would be expended to keep the schools running, which means paying current current employees, who would also surely have faced reduction in force. Loss of the millage funding would have been a disaster. If any situation would have turned St. Tammany Schools over to charter operators, this would have been it.”

My surprise at how close we came to losing the millages is underscored by my experience with the last millage vote, which occurred in April 2012. At the time, Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, was actively campaigning against millages and calling them “new taxes.” However, despite his efforts, millage votes across the state did well, including St. Tammany Schools’ millages passing with overwhelming support (80% in favor).

I asked Osborn about his thoughts regarding the close call in 2021. His response: “There was inside opposition, including from bus drivers. They have been ignored, and many have had enough. They formed a bloc and campaigned against millage renewal. I told them that I agreed that something needs to be done to address operational costs and that I would continue to work toward a solution but that I did hope the millages passed.”

Two weeks prior to the millage renewal vote, on October 29, 2021, Nola.com published a piece about St. Tammany school bus drivers being “at the breaking point”; Osborn, who was among those interviewed for the article, provided the “breaking-point” title.

So, what has led to the breaking point?

Allow me to offer the backstory in short order.

Operational pay calculations (i.e., the money paid to drivers for mileage and upkeep of the buses for which they are “owner/operators”) has not been updated since 1986.

In October 2020, a task force focused on the issue of school bus owner-operator expenses held its first meeting, which led to this report in February 2021:

Justification for the task force is as follows:

∙ The compensation schedule, which was last updated for implementation in the 1986 school year, is long overdue for an update reflective of the modern realities of school transportation; and

∙ Commensurate with inflation in the price of gasoline, school bus parts, and mechanical costs, the costs of school bus operation have risen significantly since the schedule was developed; and ∙ Considerations at the time the schedule was created, such as a drastic difference in the cost of operating a bus based on its length, have not come to fruition, and the schedule does not take into consideration that costs from year to year can vary greatly since materials such as tires may be replaced in a given year but may not be replaced again for some time; and

∙ Many school bus operators are being asked to drive for extracurricular activities such as weekend athletic events in addition to their regular school routes, which puts additional wear and tear on the buses; and

∙ Bus operators often retire with a retirement benefit that places them below the federal poverty line, even after decades of service; and

∙ Many school bus operators have expressed an urgent need for the compensation schedule to be studied and for an updated methodology to be developed in order to provide accurate compensation for costs incurred.

A major finding of the task force was that owner-operators were compensated on average $9,200 annually for operational costs but that the actual costs were double that, at $18,400. So, what is needed is a 100-percent increase in operational funding.

The report ends with a number of specific suggestions for the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) to offer written guidance to school systems. This is an important report for gaining insight into the difficulties faced by Louisiana’s owner-operator school bus drivers, and in the 2021 Louisiana legislative session, House Bill 364 was introduced to finally update the 1986 operational pay for Louisiana’s owner-operator school bus drivers.

Despite no update in operational funding in 35 years– and despite the bill being based upon the recommendation of a task force in which St. Tammany’s own transportation supervisor, George Bode, participated– HB 364 bill was defeated in the Louisiana senate on June 07, 2021, including with a “no” vote from senator and St. Tammany resident, Patrick McMath.

Below is an email exchange between McMath and a consituent who is a school bus driver:

Sent: Monday, June 7, 2021 5:21 PM
To: McMath, Sen. Patrick (District Office) <sen11@legis.la.gov>
Subject: HB 364

Mr. McMath,
I am very disappointed that you voted against HB 364, obviously you have no clue how much it cost to operate a school bus. I will be letting all the owner/operators in St Tammany know how you supported us in getting this changed after 35 years. I bet your family could not operate on a pay scale from 1986!

_______

From: McMath, Sen. Patrick (District Office)
Sent: Wednesday, June 9, 2021 12:00 PM
Subject: RE: HB 364

Thank you for reaching out to our office and I apologize for letting you down.

I wanted to share with you how I came to the decision on my vote. Several school board members and the Superintendent were against this bill. It is considered an unfunded mandate and would have cost STPSB $3.4 million. While it is too late for this session, I am willing to author and carry this bill in future session if everyone can come to an agreement on where the $3.4 million would come from.

Thank you,
Senator McMath

So. The St. Tammany school board and the superintendent lobbied against bill. In doing so, they sent the message loud and clear that they were content to leave the burden of serious underpayment for operational costs squarely on the shoulders of the bus drivers.

What a disgusting decision, and foolish. The district is already facing a bus driver shortage, and prior to writing this piece, I had heard talk of frustrated bus drivers heading for retirement. How many will retire in December? What is the district doing to encourage drivers to stay? Any plans to offer any good-faith increase per mile? Any lesson learned from just how close the millage renewal came to failing?

If those with the power to address this issue choose not to, what transportation crisis awaits us come January?

St. Tammany school board and Superintendent Jabbia: You must do something post-haste for the drivers who continue to serve our community despite working a job that is tailspinning many into “a retirement benefit that places them below the federal poverty line, even after decades of service.”

This one is on you.

Value your drivers.

________________________________________________________

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Student: How Edgenuity Ruined My Education

One of my seniors, Melanie Ulschak, mentioned her experience taking online classes. She added that during the 2020-21 school year, she had been enrolled in our Louisiana district’s virtual school, which used the Edgenuity platform, and which was a bust, to put it nicely.

I asked Melanie if she would write a guest post for my blog regarding her experience, and she agreed. I offered to post anonymously, and she said she preferred that I use her name. Below is her response.

How Edgenuity Ruined My Education

Melanie Ulschak 

When the pandemic hit, I was devastated. I lost my social outlet: school. I could no longer make random kids in class laugh, could no longer run in the hallways screaming, “It’s a great day to be a tiger, baby!” I lost my main source of human interaction all within one day.

After that loss, to my surprise, the next four months were fun. I got to sit at home, eat whatever I wanted, and I was paid $750 a week just because I lost my job during all this. I would go to Walmart with my best friend and buy whatever we wanted. I was also able to purchase my first car with savings from the pandemic. I really found myself living the good life, and I loved this temporary life that I was living.

But then came the time for us to go back to school, back to the place I have loved my entire life. I was so ready for junior year. I was ready to see my friends again, even if it meant wearing a mask. However, I was then informed that the doctor told my mother that she thought it would be best if I learned from home this year. She thought it was best if I stayed home and distanced myself from everyone considering the multiple medical conditions I suffer from.

We took the advice and enrolled in the virtual school my district offered. It was then that I met Edgenuity.

The day came for us to start classes– the day I wish would have never happened. The first few weeks were not bad. It seemed like virtual classes would be easy, that I would do my work and have the entire rest of the day off. Only problem is I never got to have the day off because I was in SEVEN online classes. This meant upwards of 2 hours of work per class, 10-15 assignments all due in one day. The work could be turned in late, but it piled up. I would catch up in one class to only now be behind even more in the next. It was exhausting. I resumed working a job and was supposed to be responsible for seven school classes. Now you might ask, “Well, wouldn’t you be at school at this time? What is so hard about sitting in front of a screen all day? You teens do it will your phone.” It is kind of hard for me to explain. Since I was a child I believed anything on the computer was either fun or not required to pass the grade. So why would this be any different?

Why would this year be different? Here’s why: I want every single one of you reading this try to sit in front of a screen and watch 7+ hours worth of videos, maybe even more. Then, I want you to answer the questions the impersonal assignments ask you without being able to go back and actually find the information you needed. Nothing to read, nothing to physically look at. Just a teacher on a Powerpoint reading to us what the Powerpoint says. These teachers I speak of? They weren’t even our real teachers, just videos, the same videos every single person received in the class. As for the real teachers, I was assigned to a teacher who had about 500 other students. Emailing theser teachers was a joke. I would email them and maybe get an email back 2-6 business days later. And that email back wasn’t ever guaranteed.

I once messaged my chemistry teacher asking for help. She called me out the blue and kept me on the phone for an hour. After the conversation was over, we never spoke again. She stopped answering my emails, my calls, any form of communication. She stopped answering everyone. All others in my class also lost all communication with her. We at first thought she died but later found out she was just not contacting us back. She watched all of us fail and did nothing about it.

There was nothing else I could do. My mother and I got into many fights because she’ “just wanted to help.” How can you help me watch 16 hours worth of videos to catch up, all because I had Covid, all because I missed 5 days of school work? How can you help me do that?

I had no one to help me.

Prior to the pandemic, I was an A/B student. I even left French my sophomore year because I thought a D was failing. I was in AP classes making good grades. All honors prior to the pandemic. Once Covid hit, so did virtual school, and in virtual school, I was making D’s. I was failing. I actually failed 3 classes. Some I chose to take again in summer school and still did not pass.

As we all know, Covid-19 is real. It kills people, makes us sick, and forces us to wear masks that make us hot. And Edgenuity? The platform is terrible. I hate it. It gave me such bad anxiety just thinking about the work. 

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Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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What It Would Take for Me to Seriously Confront Pandemic Learning Loss

Top of the list: Maximum of twelve students per class— which would allow me to devote serious time to individualized instruction while not having many other students wait on me because I am having to spread myself too thin. My smallest class is 26 students, only because an average of 2 or 3 students withdrew from a couple of my classes and reduced the original 28-29. In order to help students recover from the chaos of pandemic-disrupted learning, teachers need the smaller class sizes to afford them to be more direct, accessible role of tutor.

Nixing annual standardized testing so that students are not losing roughly one-fourth of their instructional time during the school year to an overpriced, overhyped waste of time, energy, and money. A shift toward grade-span testing would be a beefy first step.

Students arriving on time for the school day. Many students are now late to school because bus driver shortage has available drivers spread thin with extended routes.

Reliable technology— or individuals on call who can take care of the issues instantly and efficiently in real time. As it is, I must frequently interrupt class to troubleshoot or write an IT ticket, or both.

Planning time that I do not have to spend the psychological energy defending as necessary to my professional competence. My time to think, move freely, and plan is not substitute-teacher-shortage filler. It should go without saying, but burning out teachers by pushing them into the substitute-for-the-substitute” role actually exacerbates a substitute teacher shortage.

That’s it.

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Want to sharpen your digital research skills? I have a book for that!  See my latest, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies,  available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter (don’t be scared) @deutsch29blog