The Billionaires Bought BESE in 2015, But They Didn’t Buy Edwards
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) race has been bought again.
Here are the results:
District 1: James Garvey (71%); Lee Barrios (29%)
District 2: Kira Orange-Jones (69%); Kara Washington (31%)
District 3: Sandy Holloway (61%); Lottie Beebe (39%)
District 4: Runoff between Mary Harris (43%) and Tony Davis (37%)
District 5: Gary Jones (62%); Johnny Fatheree (38%)
District 6: Runoff between Kathy Edmonston (47%) and Jason Engen (19%)
District 7: Holly Boffy (53%); Mike Kreamer (47%)
District 8: Jada Lewis (52%); Carolyn Hill (48%).
Based upon the above results, the only decidedly-non-corporate-reform voice who might still be elected to BESE is Mary Harris. (Addendum 10-25-15: Kathy Edmonston is also against test-score-driven reform.)
According to Danielle Dreilinger of nola.com, at least $3.5 million has been spent on this 2015 BESE race:
Major education activist groups are again spending big on Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education races. More than $3.5 million has already come in to political action committees that support the Common Core standards and innovations such as charter schools and publicly funded vouchers.
It’s an astounding amount of money for a relatively obscure board. And the sum has already exceeded the 2011 BESE race — itself unprecedentedly expensive — even though it doesn’t count contributions made directly to candidates, nor most October spending.
The obscene amount of money pouring in from out-of-state billionaires (which, by the way, counts as “in state” money once it is funneled through a Louisiana PAC) is designed to keep corporate reform alive and well in Louisiana.
But this is not 2011. It looks like Democrat John Bel Edwards will become Louisiana’s next governor. He is in a November 21, 2015, runoff with Republican Senator David Vitter, who only garnered 24 percent of the vote to Edwards’ 40 percent.
Let us consider a possible (probable?) Edwards win in November. (Addendum 10-25-15: Edwards does not have the baggage that Vitter does; Vitter’s 24 percent of the vote was notably low; he has dodged political debates, which Edwards will push him to have. So, it comes down to whether Louisiana voters are more influenced by Vitter’s ads to have them view Edwards as an Obama follower or Edwards’ statements that electing Vitter is akin to “a Jindal third term.”)
In 2011, Louisiana superintendent John White was Governor Bobby Jindal’s golden boy.
This is 2015, and White holds no favor with Edwards. In fact, Edwards has publicly expressed his intent to get rid of White– and his words about White’s time as superintendent as being “fraught with controversy and accusations of wrongdoing” bespeak audit.
It is true that in order to have White removed as state superintendent, Edwards would have to have the backing of eight out of eleven BESE members. Technically, the state superintendent’s contract “may not extend beyond the term of office of the BESE members making the appointment,” but the new BESE board can decide to keep White– which #3.5 million virtually assures it will.
But there are ways for the governor to put pressure on White– especially given that Edwards has no secrets he needs White’s help in keeping– which was likely not true of Jindal.
One of his ways concerns who Edwards would appoint for those three governor-appointed BESE seats.
Imagine if Edwards appointed Lottie Beebe, Lee Barrios, and Jason France.
Now there’s something cool to ponder.
Another potential means for Edwards to pressure White is via Edwards’ working relationships with Louisiana legislators– which brings me back to the audit idea.
In fact, I think Edwards’ best weapon in dislodging White from his comfortable LDOE fortress of shady ethics is to arrange for programs under White’s direction to be audited.
Surely White knows this.
As governor, Edwards could also complicate Louisiana’s Common Core standards review. According to HB 373, known as the “Common Core Compromise,” the next governor has veto power over the standards review result and can send it back to BESE “to make the necessary revisions.”
What is additionally noteworthy is that White will not have BESE President Chas Roemer to back him. That doesn’t mean that other corporate-reform BESE members might not try. However, with Roemer gone, there is a shift in the dynamics of BESE.
And just as Carolyn Hill defied her being corporate-reform-money-financed in the 2011 BESE race, some of the BESE newcomers might just have enough of a revelation to defy the education privatization that those $3.5 million intended to purchase.
Despite the billionaire cash infusion, the 2015 BESE election results might not be enough to shield John White from a long-overdue dose of genuine accountability.