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John White’s Voucher Laundering Scheme

March 1, 2013

If there were a superintendent’s award for “persistence in shady financing and associated public deception,” John White would be a top contender.  Here is his latest plan to fund the already-declared-unconstitutional voucher plan in Louisiana:

Send the voucher Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) money to the school districts, and have the districts agree to break the law and cut their own throats financially by sending $5100 of the MFP with the voucher students to the voucher schools. 

Executive Director Scott Richard of the Louisiana School Boards Association has a different perspective on the matter:

…Richard, whose group represents 645 local board members statewide, said the proposal has problems. “We are going to move forward with the litigation because we think Judge Kelley’s rationale was clearly in alignment with the constitution,” he said.

“And no system of funding that diverts money from the MFP to private entities is in the best interests of public school students at this point in time,” Richard said. [Emphasis added.]

In true top-down, reformer fashion, John White has post-dated his proposal for March 7th and assumes BESE will rubber-stamp the item.

There is to be another hearing on the constitutionality of using MFP funds for nonpublic schools.  The Louisiana constitution clearly stipulates that MFP money canot be used to fund vouchers to nonpublic schools nor can it be used to fund White’s proposed Course Choice program. Judge Tim Kelley on November 30, 2012, that use of MFP money for vouchers to nonpublic schools is unconstitutional, as is the use of MFP money to finance Course Choice. The case is to be heard in appeal March 19. As Judge Kelley ruled:

“While the Court does not dispute the serious nature of these proceedings nor the impact and potential effects on Louisiana’s educational systems, vital public dollars raised and allocated for public schools through the MFP cannot be lawfully diverted to nonpublic schools or entities,” Kelley wrote in his ruling.  [Emphasis added.]

White is trying to have school districts agree with his shady arrangement by allowing the district ot keep the “extra” MFP money once the voucher student has left the district.

Not exactly the model of integrity, is it?

Then again, the only time I have seen White’s name connected with the term “integrity,” that came from former BESE president Penny Dastugue.

Consider the source.

There are many problems with White’s “offer.”  First, it is blatantly illegal, and the districts who would agree to such an arrangement place themselves in the position to be sanctioned for agreeing to such a practice.  As arrogant as White is, and as lame as BESE has been in following White (Beebe and Hill excepted), they cannot override the law by passing a BESE mandate.

A second issue involves White’s past refusal to release to school districts the names of students supposedly using vouchers from their districts.  In the past, White has merely given the district a number and docked the MFP. Thus, White makes it difficult for districts to verify whether voucher students are from their districts and are attending a school labeled as C, D, or F. (I am using my knowledge of what has happened in my district, St. Tammany Parish, as justification for this point.)

A third issue involves the actual cost per voucher student. As per Mary K. Bellisario, St. Tammany School Board vice president, the actual MFP paid to St. Tammany parish per student is $5100, and the cost for a student to attend public school in St. Tammany is over $11,000 per student. This cost is influenced by the meeting of federal and state mandates.  Regarding the current cost of transferring students out, Bellisario notes in an email,

First,  Supt. White says the “average cost” of a voucher is $5100, but our parish of St. Tammany found that it was much more. The first round of “transfer out” students using vouchers COST St. Tammany over $1.2 million, with one student alone costing us over $10,000.  Several were more than $8000, not $5,100.

And even though the Louisiana voucher scheme is a dismal failure with roughly 2% of those eligible have chosen to participate in the voucher program in Louisiana, given that the state has frozen its MFP funds to schools for the past five years, districts are experiencing the added financial strain of losing $5100 per voucher student.  Approximately 10,000 Louisiana students currently participate in the contested voucher program. That is approximately $5100 x 10,000 = $51,000,000 in MFP funds removed from public schools across the state this year.

White has an established habit of ignoring the law and proceeding with his agenda.  For example, almost immediately after funding Course Choice using MFP was declared illegal, White pushed approval of Course Choice through BESE even though there was now no clear means of funding the program. As this Education Week article notes:

Just four days after a judge ruled Louisiana’s unprecedented Course Choice program unconstitutional, the state’s school board approved 45 course providers to create those classes, even though the court ruling leaves the program without funding.

If approved by the board, Course Choice will continue, but without any funding. The Friday ruling is being appealed. White told the Associated Press that for the courses to be ready for the 2013-14 school year, it must go forward as long as it can before funding is made available. Registration is scheduled to begin March 7.

That may put the approved vendors in a precarious position, developing courses with no guarantee they can recoup the costs. [Emphasis added.]

This is how reformers work. Ignore the law. Create confusion. Promote litigation. Disrupt districts. Get paid a high salary for doing so.

Oh, and yeah, it’s “for the kids.”

  1. Give him points for creativity and some problem-solving skills, I suppose, but he can enjoy them from his jail cell, far as I’m concerned. And the sooner the better…

    Thanks for the heads-up.

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