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La. BESE Has Been Bought Once Again (Maybe Not Completely)

October 12, 2019

UPDATE 10-13-19: THERE WILL BE A RUNOFF between Ronnie Morris and Gregory Spiers (District 6). Spiers was endorsed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT).

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Well, Louisiana. The state ed board (BESE) has been (mostly) bought yet again.

Eight (make that seven) for eight, the BESE candidates preferred by out-of-state billionaires, like the Waltons, and by out-of-state, ed-reform election-shapers, like Education Reform Now and American Federation for Children, will hold BESE seats and will cast votes that almost certainly bend Louisiana education in favor of testing, school choice– and retaining TFAer John White as state ed superintendent.

The following three ed-reform diehards have been re-elected a third time and, as such, are not eligible to run for a fourth term:

  • James Garvey (Dist 1),
  • Kira Orange-Jones (Dist 2), and
  • Holly Boffy (Dist 7).

Also re-elected, for a second term, are ed-reform supporters

  • Sandy Holloway (Dist 3), and
  • Tony Davis (Dist 4– unopposed).

And, for their first appearance after being given the corporate-ed-reform, campaign-cash-flush nod, are

  • Ashley Ellis (Dist 5), and
  • Preston Castille (Dist 8).

As for Louisiana’s gubernatorial race, there will be a runoff between Democrat incumbent, John Bel Edwards, who garnered 47% of the vote, and Republican Eddie Rispone, at 27% (98% reporting)

Louisiana’s BESE board is comprised on 11 members, three of whom are appointed by the governor. Edwards’ last three appointees, along with one other BESE member, prevented John White from having his contract renewed in 2015 for 2016-2020. As such, White became a month-to-month employee.

If Eddie Rispone becomes governor, he will surely appoint individuals favorable to the school choice agenda espoused by US ed sec Betsy DeVos, since Rispone is a past chairperson for Louisiana Federation for Children Action Fund (see here and here and here), an offshoot of DeVos’ American Federation for Children.

If Edwards is reelected as governor, he will likely not appoint individuals who would vote to renew John White’s contract. However, since White’s contract renewal requires a BESE supermajority of eight votes, Edwards’ three appointees would not be sufficient to prevent such a renewal.

It is possible that a BESE member whose campaign was financed by out-of-state ed-reform cash could defy falling in line with the preferred agenda of the purchasers. It is even possible that the purchasers tried to purchase a candidate despite candidate resistance to being bought. Such was the case of BESE member Carolyn Hill (District 8), in the 2011 BESE race.

The one person I wonder about in this regard is Ashley Ellis (District 5). In reading Ellis’ campaign postings on Facebook and reporting on her history (see here also), Ellis does not strike me as an ed-reform “given.” My impression is that Ellis might prefer to form her own decisions about her BESE vote and not just fall in line with a majority vote.

If that is true, and if Edwards wins the gubernatorial runoff, then it is possible that four out of 11 BESE members might hesitate to renew White’s contract without the support of the governor.

And then, there’s the District 6 runoff. Spiers would not likely vote in favor of renewing White’s contract, and Morris’ position on White is unknown. (Too, the newest BESE members might defer to holding a vote on the governor’s preference for state superintendent rather than continuing to push former governor Bobby Jindal’s superintendent preference from 2011.)

Such uncertainties could make things interesting.

White supporters on the 2015-elected BESE purposely dodged holding a formal vote related to White’s contract since the majority in favor of White was not the necessary supermajority of eight needed to renew White’s contract, and an August 12, 2019, Advocate article has those folks on record as saying such a vote would happen:

Incumbents who hope to return to Louisiana’s top school board say resolving the job future of state Superintendent of Education John White should be a top priority when the new board convenes in January.

“If I am back, we will deal with John White’s contract very quickly,” said Jim Garvey, a BESE member who lives in Metairie and is one of five current members who qualified for re-election last week. …

“I feel that we owe it to our state to really sit down and talk,” said Sandy Holloway, a BESE member from Thibodaux who faces one opponent in the Oct. 12 primary. “It is time to make a decision there,” said Holloway.

Davis also said the issue needs needs closure. “Something will give one way or another,” he said.

Holly Boffy, the board’s vice president, said White’s contract needs to be resolved by the new board.

We’ll see what happens here.

First things first: The gubernatorial runoff and BESE District 6 runoff will both take place in November 2019.

john white 5

John White

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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