Education Reform in Louisiana: A PAC of Lies and Liars.

Education Reform in Louisiana: A PAC of Lies and Liars.

It’s been a few weeks since the final BESE elections wrapped up in Louisiana.

(BESE is Louisiana’s elected state school board. The board as 8 elected positions and 3 appointed by the Governor and is responsible for setting policy for all public schools, private schools, charter schools and homeschool programs in the state as well as defining the MFP, a funding formula for public schools. A BESE position does not come with a salary but does provide a small stipend and a laptop or iPad to communicate with the state e-mail system using the state assigned e-mail address.

BESE meets every other month for 2 days for regularly scheduled meetings and as needed for emergency agenda items. It’s not a glamorous job, no salary, no staff, a lot of filing/qualifying requirements and red tape, and a lot of public scrutiny – but that hasn’t prevented it from becoming the most contentious and expensive position in the state, second only to the Governor’s position in Louisiana.)

The 2015 elections were something of a watershed moment for Louisiana. It was the first year BESE board candidates opposing destructive Education Reform were able to unify across parties, geography (and any other line you can think of) and work to fight against the lies and money of the Ed Reform machine.  Education Reform is sold on the backs of lies about “success”, lies about goals of opponents, and through the perpetuation of firmly discredited myths.

This year, however, the lies and dishonesty were of absurd, even epic proportions; even for politicians; even for politicians from Louisiana!

The Ed Reform movement didn’t just lie, they built a campaign machine that ran on the exact diametric opposite of reality.

I will show several examples of how this looks and what it means in the next few posts on this subject. Fortunately I was able to document some of these lies to call people out over the years that follow, and for you, the public, to hold them to their pledges (or admit they were lying POS.)

Here is a commercial Lane Grigsby’s Empower PAC ran against one of the FlipBESE candidates I supported in the 2015 elections.  This was run against a veteran of the Ascension Parish school system who works with children with disabilities, and their families, named Kathy Edmonston.

When I talked to Kathy about this commercial she was quite upset. The extras they use in this video make her out to be an idiot as did the hundreds of thousands of dollars in mailers sent out by local education reform mobster, Empower PAC founder and LABI chairman, Lane Grigsby.  This was just one piece of a out of state billionaire funded coordinated campaign to take part of statement she said during and interview completely out of context and claim she did not believe children should be taught to read or perform math until the third grade.

I suppose the depression era black and white photo of gloomy kids is supposed to represent outdated thinking?  I’m not really sure that was a belief back then, but they get points for using some ridiculous over-the-top scare tactics.  (FYI, Ascension Parish is one of our top rated school districts in the state by the ed reformers own grading scale, so I’m pretty sure they must be doing something right.)

Kathy provided the video where Empower and Grigsby chose to libel and slander her education stands from a Frances and Friends broadcast.

(Frances and Friends is a Christian television show on the SonLife network.  Bearing false witness against a Christian television show?  It doesn’t get much classier than that.)

If you listen to the clip, Kathy Edmonston actually says the complete opposite of Grigsby and his Empower PAC (funded by Michael Bloomberg, Eli Broad, Jim and Alice Walton) are claiming. She says it essential that kids learn to read and write before third grade and that most of our early efforts should go towards ensuring that goal.  Her observation and critique was that, under Common Core, many kids are getting to third grade unable to read or do simple math.

Selling the exact opposite of the truth: Education Reform’s specialty.

The Education Reform movement is a group of PACs and corporately funded puppet organizations that sell lies to the public.  They lie about their “successes”; they lie about their failures; they lie to create faux failures for others; they lie to support their agenda and attack their detractors to prevent any adult conversations or real critical analysis of their claims from happening.

When I met with Grigsby earlier this year to try and discuss his views and our differences candidly he told me that he doesn’t believe in Democracy because politicians can get entrenched and corrupted as he believes happened in New Orleans.  Lane explained to me that all that really matters these days is who has the most money and who can tell the most convincing lie.

I believe he proved that to be true for the most part in this election cycle.  That may be the most honest thing he’s said to anyone about politics and his worldview in a while. Grigsby and his allies poured more than 4 million dollars worth of lies into this year’s BESE races and won 7 out of the 8 elected seats that prior to the charter school movement were won for less than 10k.

This money is flowing here from supporters, and investors, of/in the charter school industry.  Whether you are a charter supporter or not, it is clear that money from the charter industry has drowned out any voices but their own.  Combine that fact with the compulsive and absurd lying, like that shown here, and you can see why all forms of education (not just public) are really facing a crisis these days. The Education Reform movement has created a real crisis with their policies to replace the faux crisis they sold their new policies on in the first place.

I’m not sure if that is irony, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or maybe just good business?

What I do know is that Education Reform responsible for teaching our kids all the wrong things, both in school, and outside of school by their example.

Unfortunately it’s not just children who are being taught very destructive things.  We are also teaching adults to disrespect Democracy and to defecate on truth as well.

 

 

 

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Kathy Edmonston Needs Your Vote

Tomorrow Louisiana goes to the polls to elect their new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, but also BESE members for districts 6 and 4.

Kathy Edmonston is running to represent the people and children of district 6.

Her opponent, Jason Engen, is running to represent business and industry, as he explained in his own words.

The Hayride first asked Engen why he’s running for BESE. He says he’s in the race because no one represented the business side who he calls the end user of the education system.

And business and industry are supporting Engen to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, most of which is used to smear his opponent and to mislead the public about his views.  Engine claims he is against Common Core and for local control.  Engen even claims he wants to reject the status quo in his advertisements, but when you ask him what that means. . .

The Hayride asked Engen what are the major issues he was running on in this campaign. “To me the most important one is we’ve seen some reforms kick in over the last few years that I think we need to maintain and to the extent possible we need to maintain.” said Engen.

. . . it means maintain the status quo . A status quo that has seen our NAEP scores plummet for the first time in more than 20 years.  A status quo that doesn’t only promote, but even worships Common Core and embraces all of its glaring flaws as “rigor”.

To Jason Engen, local control means forcing Common Core and PARCC tests upon homeschool parents.

The Hayride asked Engen about homeschooling and whether he supported further regulating them. While he supports homeschooling, he supports subjecting them to high standards similiar to what public and private schools are subjected it.

Jason Engen contacted me via text message last month because he wanted to complain about my blog posts about him.  At that time I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions.  Some he answered and vehemently denied, some he chose not to answer.  I will leave you to determine what that means.

Did Grigsby promise to pay for your kids to go to private school if you do his bidding? I know he told you that John White stays, regardless of what he’s done. . . [Me]

Have a good day.  The point was to leave each other’s kids out of it. [Engen]

Will there be magical scholarships from a mysterious benefactor?  You will be ruining public schools so you won’t want to send your kids there under your “leadership” [me]

Just tell me  he didn’t make White’s staying a condition of his support.  When he brags about it to folks later it might make you look bad. . . [me]

Engen’s backers are intent upon taking rights away from parents and destroying public schools.  Based on his ethics report filings Engen does not seem to make enough money to enroll his 3 children in private school by his this wife, and 4th child by an earlier wife, on his lone salary.  (His current wife does not work.)  Engen’s primary benefactor of both his campaign and the SuperPac that supports him is Cajun Industries CEO and LABI chairman, Lane Grigsby, whom I spoke with earlier this year.

Lane explained to me at that time that he was a great champion of  poor kids and that he “personally paid for a number of scholarships for those people that can’t seem to take care of those kids they keep making” to attend private schools.  In his opinion this meant he cared more about education than anyone else and he must be making the right decisions for the right reasons about education.

I figured, what would a few more scholarships be to a guy who pays for so many already?  But Engen refused to respond to this question so I left him with these thoughts and a promise.

I know this is all fun and games and career advancement opportunities to you, but you are not leaving my kids out of it.  Supporting this agenda, driving off their teachers, bankrupting their school district, forcing ridiculous PARCC tests down their throats. That pisses me off.  That pisses a lot of people off.  You have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into, but I think you may very well find out Saturday night. [Me]

Don’t expect me or other parents to ever stop defending our kids from you and your ignorance and recklessness. [Me]

Kathy Edmonston needs your vote to send a message to all the Engen’s and Grigsby’s out in the world that some of us can’t be bought.

Kathy needs your vote to protect our children and save our schools.

Kathy needs your vote to be one of our lone voices on BESE.

Please do what you can tomorrow to ensure Kathy wins and Engen fades back into obscurity.

Your vote tomorrow is what I expect at the very least. But what we need is for you to make sure all of your friends and relatives vote for Kathy tomorrow too.  Please do your part to help Kathy.  Help us defeat those like Engen, who will trample on our rights and do irreparable harm to our children and communities in the years to come.

We need you.

(P.S.  if you live in district 4, the Caddo/Shreveport area, please do the same to help Mary Harris. Her opponent, Tony Davis, is every bit as deceitful as Engen and we need them both on BESE to replace the great champions for public education and Louisiana children, Carolyn Hill and Lottie Bebee, that we lost in October.)

Thanks

 

Those Lying Jason Engen Eyes

Those Lying Jason Engen Eyes

I was just notified that Jason Engen had the audacity to file an ethics complaint against Kathy Edmonston for producing literature he is not against Common Core.

As proof of his opposition all we have is his word and an ad he produced claiming he was against it.  On the other side of the equation is a preponderance of the evidence that shows he is lying about this, and numerous other issues that I will cover in upcoming posts.  As Megan Trainor singes, “His lips are moving and he lies lies lies.”

While just about every single claim Jason makes in his own literature is a lie, I will focus on the one he has filed a complaint about Edmonston for because among other things, I have his own words to indict him.

You see, I was a candidate against Engen in the primary, where he was supported almost solely by Lane, LABI and their various PACs they formed to get around ethics restrictions for donation limits from single sources.  LABI formed 4 political action committees called WestPac, EastPac, NorthPac and SouthPac.

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Lane Grigsby, owner of Cajun Industries and chief contributor and director of LABI, (The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry) also has control of several more, one of which is named Grigsby’s Empower PAC.  Lane Grigsby has been one of Common Core’s staunchest defenders in this state.  I met with him earlier this year and he mocked me and parents for being against Common Core.  I explained some of the specific issues about Common Core to him, face-to-face, and he waved me off and said “it doesn’t matter, it’s about using standards to test teachers and hold them “accountable” and Common Core is the only solution that will do that.”

Earlier this year Engen’s biggest supporter sent pink stuffed unicorns to every single legislature at the state capital while they were in session, from yet another one of his PACs (ABC pac), with a note that said “Unicorns are not real.  And neither are most of the problems you’ve heard about Common Core.”

When I organized some parents to send some stuffed crawfish to legislators with a message that the problems with Common Core were real, like crawfish, he countered with an elaborate hardback glossy book with a giant unicorn centerfold and quotes from Ronald Regan, Grigsby and his PAC claimed showed that even the deceased Ronald Reagan supports Common Core.

This is the unicorn the put on Brett Geymann’s house seat to taunt him, and other parents and teachers who are against Common Core, last Spring.

 unicorn

The push is led by the Alliance for Better Classrooms political action committee, or ABC PAC.

The same group, with Baton Rouge contractor Lane Grigsby as one of its leaders, played a key role in the 2011 races for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Organizers of the effort have distributed stuffed pink or white unicorns to state lawmakers that include tags that say “Unicorns are not real. And neither are most of the things you’ve heard about Common Core State Standards.”

This is Jason Engen’s primary support.  Last I checked 98% of his funds came from Grigsby, his allies, and his various PACs.  Of course, Engen filed his own ethics paperwork late during the primary, and failed to disclose a number of things he spent money on, like even how he paid for his $900 filing fee, although he believed enough in himself to loan himself $900 so he could get even that refunded by Grigsby.

Scores of people have reported they’ve tried to ask Engen some specific questions about Common Core, like when he started finding problems when it, what he finds problematic specifically, but he deletes those comments from his Facebook campaign site and then blocks those people from coming back.  His behaviors is boorish and churlish and unbecoming of a representative of the people.  You can expect this behavior to only get worse if you elect him to anything but gazing at his own navel.

When I met with Grigsby he made it clear he didn’t want to support people that listened to the public, he only wanted people that listened to him.  I refused his support, as did BESE member Lottie Bebee.  Those that accept Grigsby backing do so with that understanding that his views are the only ones that matter.

But let’s get to that more personal look at Engen’s beliefs I alluded to earlier, shall we?

Engen texted me from his personal cell phone to complain about some claims I made on my blog he felt were unfair.  I claimed he has another 12 year old child that does not appear in his commercials where he talks about his 3 other children by his current wife that went to private schools and that he went to private schools his whole life.  Jason told me this was untrue, and that he was actually a public school student and so was his daughter.  I asked him for specifics and he provided the name of elementary school he spent at least one day at growing up.  I asked Engen about the private school he listed he was a graduate from on his own webpage and instead of confirming he was being misleading said

“That’s where I went to high school.  You said I never attended public schools.  That’s an incorrect statement.”

I thought he was claiming to be some sort of engineer, not a Bill Clinton type lawyer arguing the letter of the law, but sobeit.  However the most interesting thing about this conversation is how he started it off with me.  It was never about Common Core, I never brought it up in my post, but look what he wrote me.

“Jason, Jason Engen here.  In the interest of accuracy I would like to clarify a few things. My “inconvenient truth’s” name is “[redacted]”. She has been in public schools here entire life.  She’s currently a student at [redacted] Middle School in [redacted], [redacted] where her mom lives.  They have been using Common Core for years and she’s a straight A student.”

Now why would he bring that up if he was against Common Core?  Does that sound like a Common Core opponent to you, or a proud proponent?

Engen is a liar and a coward who hides behind his lies and his children to provide him cover.

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Engen pimps his children in his commercial’s and literature and incessantly uses them as his reason for running and primary qualification, but doesn’t want anyone else to bring that up.  He probably also doesn’t want to bring up that his current wife is actually his third wife.

In the spirit of accuracy and fairness I would ask that Engen add his 2 other wives and 12 year old so we have a more honest picture of who we’re dealing with here.

However, I have found one thing I can finally agree with Engen on:

“My opponent has made false statements regarding my position on key issues,” said Engen. “To mislead the voters is not acceptable behavior for anyone seeking to serve in public office. I’m concerned that if my opponent cannot tell the truth on the campaign trail, then why should the people of District 6 believe she would tell the truth if elected.”

Engen has a bizarre aversion to the truth.  He claims he is for local control in his own literature, while simultaneously telling a forum full of people he believes he should have the power as a state representative to take over local schools if he doesn’t like they way they are performing.  Local control also means overriding local school board decisions at the state level to impose charter schools on A and B districts to Engen. He also told them he wants to be part of the process of where the state and BESE take control of all local daycare and pre-school programs and impose more restrictions and requirements on families that homeschool their children.  But Engen proudly prints “Local Control” on all his literature.  You couldn’t be more big government than comrade Engen.

If Engen is against Common Core, and LABI and Lane Grigsby (his primary supporters) have changed their tune in the last day, well maybe unicorns really are real?

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By the way, if you have been trying and trying to reach Engen and he keeps deleting you and blocking you and you have a few minutes, why not simply just call him up with your questions?  He does want to be your rep on BESE so let him start listening to you now.  Call Engen at 225-405-0026 and ask him when he first started hating Common Core, what his problems are with it specifically (other than it’s not Louisiana based) and what he would like to see changed.  I imagine that won’t be a very long conversation.  Report your answers back to Kathy Edmonston so she can refer them to her lawyers.

Thanks!

SPEDGate: How the Louisiana Department of Education is Misappropriating Millions of Dollars a Year from their Federal Special Education Funding for Cronies and Political Favors

What follows is an investigative story about the Special Education program run by the Louisiana Department of Education which reveals how numerous players have profited by funneling Federal IDEA funds to their own pet projects and personnel.

This illegal misappropriation of public money has left many special education students, parents, and district staff without the support those federal funds were mandated to provide.

My story has many twists, turns, and villains, but I will try to lay out the details as clearly as I can.  This story exposes what appears to be criminal behavior and corruption at our highest levels of government.  There is undoubtedly more to the story than I know or will be able to relay here, but I will present what I have and let the public, legislators and law enforcement agencies decide if this matter is worth investigating further using tools beyond my power.

A few months ago I received a letter from a concerned Special Education activist in Louisiana.  This source to whom I have given anonymity provided some internal documents prepared by the Louisiana Department of Education which were distributed to certain Louisiana legislators.  Much of the information provided had been previously relayed to me over several years, but I have been unable to prove those assertions, until now.

The first element that was revealed to me is that LDOE has destroyed the Special Education Department.  Most of the staff who previously dealt with Special Education issues were reassigned or fired,  but LDOE kept the money the federal government was providing specifically to support special education staff.  To justify this, LDOE allocated these funds I to 129 different staff members across the department, many of whom had absolutely nothing to do with Special Education.  I have provided a list of these allocations as attachments labeled “salary” and “salary 2”.  I’m told this documentation was provided to Representative John Schroeder when the department was trying to make a case that they did not have the necessary staff to comply with Act 833. (Act 833 was signed into law in 2014 and requires LDOE to provide alternate graduation requirement guidelines for certain disabled students.)

salary

salary 2

According to guidance documents I have provided, it is acceptable for LDOE to allocate salaries on a pro-rata basis.  However, this basis must be determined by the employee for the amount of time they actually spend solely on Special Education issues.  Employees are required to sign off every week on “Time-and-Effort Certifications” like the one shown below:

Cert schedule

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time-and-effort-reporting-b

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As you can see, employees are supposed to document how much time they spend on actual Special Education focused issues and to then sign this affidavit.  Their supervisors then sign off on this form.  However employees at LDOE do not enter the percentages.  Their supervisors provide documents with these percentages already filled out, or they instruct their employees what numbers they must use based on how they have been allocated for budgeting purposes, not based on any actual work.  Many of the LDOE employees allocated to Special Education couldn’t work on Special Education issues if they tried.  Employees that have tried to refuse committing fraud have been threatened with immediate termination by their supervisors.  One source I interviewed relayed a story I had been told several times before.

“…when one LDOE employee said he/she did not want to sign the verification sheet – because it was untrue – the person was told the alternative was to be fired.”

Some state employees are blackmailed into committing payroll fraud every week.  They cannot reveal this because they cannot prove the supervisor told them they would be fired for not signing the sheet, and if they confess to committing the fraud, the supervisor can claim they were ignorant of the situation and the employee acted on his/her own.  This would result in the employee being fired and then subject to criminal charges.  (This is how many criminal organizations and gangs trap people in cycles of crime.  Once you commit a crime, that crime can be held over you to keep you silent and to blackmail you into additional criminal activity.)  Below is one of the relevant federal directives:

Support for Salaries and Wages of an Employee Working on a Single Cost Objective

The Appendix to 2 C.F.R. Part 225 (formerly OMB Circular A-87, Cost Principles for State, Local, and Indian Tribal Governments) requires an employee whose salary and wages are supported, in whole or in part, with Federal funds to document his/her time spent working on Federal programs in order to ensure that charges to each Federal program reflect an accurate account of the employee’s time and effort devoted to that program.  The Appendix addresses two types of documentation:  semiannual certifications and personnel activity reports.

Personnel activity reports

If an employee works on multiple activities or cost objectives, a distribution of the employee’s salary and wages must be supported by a personnel activity report (PAR) or equivalent documentation.  The Appendix lists instances of multiple activities or cost objectives for which a PAR is required — that is, if an employee works on –

  • • More than one Federal award.
  • • A Federal award and a non-Federal award.
  • • An indirect cost activity and a direct cost activity.
  • • Two or more indirect activities that are allocated using different allocation bases.
  • • An unallowable activity and a direct or indirect cost activity.

A PAR must –

  • • Reflect an after-the-fact distribution of the actual activity of the employee.
  • • Account for the total activity for which each employee is compensated.
  • • Be prepared at least monthly and coincide with one or more pay periods.
  • • Be signed by the employee.

Employees are told what to put on their timesheets and if they refuse to do so and sign off on them, they are threatened with termination.  That is clearly not what the USDOE had in mind when they issued their guidance.

LDOE was asked about their special education resources, alignment and composition in a December 17, 2014, Joint House and Senate Education Committee hearing.  They responded on January 5, 2015, describing how they had reorganized internally to better address Special Education classes concerns that could potentially span across the department.  Here is the question they answered and LDOE’s response:

8. Please identify the Department’s Special Education staff and describe their support of local school systems.

Historically the Department has been organized into a fragmented system of divisions in which various elementary and secondary school sectors have been isolated – not only special education, but also career and technical education, curriculum, educator support, assessments, accountability, federal programs, early childhood education, and more.  This structure did not foster planning or collaboration among divisions, nor did it reflect the real-world environments of public schools where all of these needs must be addressed every day in the same schools, even in the same classrooms.  The isolation of special education staff, in particular, ran contrary to the goals of inclusion for students to be able to participate in and benefit from the total educational experience as their non-disabled peers.

Because special education is a service for student who need it, and because all Department of Education staff and local school system staff are obligated to providing that service, not just “special education” staff, the Department began integrating special education supports throughout the agency:

Network Teams: […]

Program Staff: […]

memo

memo 2

Most of this passage is gobbledygook designed to take up space and bore the reader into dozing off and accepting LDOE’s presumed expertise on the subject.  The section I’ve highlighted is the basis under which LDOE is operating. Their reasoning is not supported by federal laws, regulations or policies, but it does describe the philosophy they are providing to legislators.

In plain speak, what LDOE is saying is:

“Because all school systems have or could have disabled students, and all support staff provide information for all students (which include disabled students), all employees support disabled students.”

This is not just wrong but the opposite of what the federal government has provided this funding for.  LDOE knows this is wrong, but they are willfully ignoring the laws and relevant federal guidance because no one is holding them accountable for following state and federal laws and policies.

LDOE is using earmarked Special Education funding as a way to boost employees’ salaries and employ personnel for the programs they deem more important that Special Education.

As a result:

  • Many initiatives such as 833, an alternative pathway for disabled students to earn a diploma, are faltering.
  • Students are being denied services and corporally punished for their conduct related to their disabilities.
  • Parents are being told to fill out invasive surveys and are required to provide information illegally in order for their children to receive services.
  • Charter schools are not only refusing to provide disabled students services but are being paid money for services they never provided.
  • The state and RSD are being sued on a regular basis because of their handling of Special Education.

Here is one of the of the class action settlements related to violations of special education students’ rights (ironically hosted on the LDOE’s website, www.LouisianaBelieves.com)

Some of the complaints against RSD and LDOE involved students with disabilities being repeatedly locked in closets or disciplined for minor infractions until they could be expelled.

Leskisher Luckett, whose third-grade son was repeatedly locked in a school closet as a means of punishment, described the effect this discrimination has had on her son. “After being treated like a lost cause for years, Darren has come to believe that about himself. My son, my 9-year old son, is too young to give up on his education.”

Robyn Flanery’s daughter began suffering from profound emotional troubles upon entering the seventh grade. But rather than receive any type of services to address her condition, she was repeatedly punished for minor infractions until she was finally expelled from the school she had attended since kindergarten. Ms. Flanery reported that this led to even greater emotional trauma.

These situations are largely attributed to the fact that special education coordinators across the state are lacking in guidance (have lacked it for years), direction and training on special education issues.  The state is provided millions of dollars annually to employ staff to support school district personnel, but they are shirking these duties.  Taxpayers are not getting what they are paying for.  Instead, taxpayers are now also paying for lawsuits and settlements because disabled children and their parents are suffering abuse, neglect and ignorance as a result of the incompetence and lack of expertise of staff employed by the LDOE.

For this story, numerous parents and other sources involved with Special Education in Louisiana were interviewed and asked to provide their thoughts on LDOE and their handling of Special Education for the state.

Liz Gary, a mother of a student receiving special education services in St Tammany,  and a staunch Special Education rights advocate in Louisiana had this to say about LDOE’s recent changes to how they handle (or don’t handle) Special Education training and oversight:

The state department has offered no training, professional development or oversight in years.  They believe their webinars and newsletter is all that is needed.  Unfortunately, as you know, they have let a lot of experienced people go and replaced them with inexperienced people.  It is not good.  If districts are not doing what they are supposed to do there is no one to monitor them because the state department is not doing it.

Districts are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.  I’ve heard this refrain many times for years. This cry has only gotten louder since State Superintendent John White destroyed the Special Education department in the name of improving coordination and efficiency.

White and his staff dismissed, demoted or drove off most of the qualified and experienced staff members and replaced them with politically driven appointments like the current Special Education Policy Director Jamie Wong.  Jamie spent a few years teaching pre-k and kindergarten in DC as a TNTP teacher.  (TNTP is The New Teacher Project, an organization founded by the now discredited Michelle Rhee, a former Teach for America Alum who is widely believed to have rigged test scores and overlooked or even encouraged cheating during her tenure as the Superintendent of DC public schools.)  Jamie now earns $95,000 a year at LDOE with only a few years of teaching experience.  Not so coincidentally, Jamie Wong is married to Michael Thomas Wong, one of the chief campaign strategists for Senator David Vitter who is widely presumed to be Louisiana’s next governor.  It appears that Michael Wong is paid at least $90,000 to serve as Vitter’s Capital Area Director, and  gubernatorial campaign advisor and strategist.  Michael’s salary for just 6 months of last year was $43,318.54.

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Sources have claimed that Jamie’s job is a quid pro quo from John White to David Vitter, who is presumed to be John White’s next boss as the Governor of Louisiana.

Perhaps that is true, or perhaps that was just the icing on the cake, but what I want to know is why no one else in Louisiana or at the Department of Education was considered qualified for her position? I’m having trouble understanding why a recent college graduate living in DC (someone with a few years of teaching experience and a degree in political science from Southern Mississippi) is in charge overseeing all Special Education for the State of Louisiana, or why she was appointed when folks with 30 and 40 years of Special Education teaching and experience and PhDs were cast aside.

Dr. Laureen Mayfield, President of the Louisiana Association of Special Education Administrators (LASEA), had this to say about LDOE’s recent attempt at implementing Act 833:

They are not rolling out the training until August, after school has begun for many of us. The Special Education Directors and Supervisors in the state have clearly communicated to LDOE that they needed advanced training on writing IEPs for students pursuing an alternate pathway to graduation under Act 833. In addition, LASEA members have repeatedly expressed that they do not need “IEP Writing 101” for beginning teachers, but instead, higher level training for experienced teachers who just need guidance on developing thoughtful, effective IEPs for Act 833. The drafts modules that have been shown to a stakeholder group, however, appeared to be basic “what is an IEP and how do you write it” information—which is exactly what LASEA clearly communicated they did not need. We will not know until August if LSU listened to feedback from directors, or if the modules will “have Act 833 embedded in them” by including a slide or two quoting from the legislation.

LDOE has as many as a third to one half of their workforce reportedly dedicated to Special Education issues.  According to LDOE’s own report to the legislature in January, these staff members were imbedded across all areas of the department, particularly curriculum, and yet they had to obtain a quarter million dollar contract with Alan Coulter at the LSU Human Development Center to provide guidance and training for Act 833 which is what the preceding comments are referring to.

However, instead of actually providing that training, the Human Development Center produced a basic “IEP 101” course because LDOE, under John White, with 129 special education staffers, had lost the capacity to do even the most basic Special Education task.

One former attendee of previous professional development sessions hosted by LDOE (in the pre-John White days) reminisced about how LDOE used to tend to Special Education issues:

Pre-White [and former state superintendent Paul Pastorek] the Special Ed Directors from the entire state, including those in charters, met for quarterly meetings in BR with the Special Ed State Director and all the SPED staff. It was a whole day meeting and they updated us on everything–changes to laws, innovative practices, etc.

In addition to that, an Ad Hoc group […] met monthly with Susan Batson and all the SPED staff at the LDOE. We went over everything going on of importance, including vetting and discussing any changes they wanted to make to bulletins. We talked and “argued” professionally until we all came to consensus. They also kept us up to date on all changes we needed to know about, listened to our concerns, and actually addressed them.

I also spoke with former staff members from LDOE to get their take on what had happened. Here is one of the descriptions:

You can point out that every student with disabilities in Louisiana has been affected by the greed and political aspirations of our so-called leaders. Districts have no guidance from LDOE because anyone with any knowledge or experience in special Ed has been run off either by layoffs or out of sheer disgust over the way things are being done. They (districts) are left to figure it out for themselves. The districts with stronger special Ed leaders are surviving; those with weaker leadership – not so much.

One parent from Central had this to say.  Her children were denied Special Education services at Tanglewood elementary because she refused to fill out an offensive questionnaire asking about her elementary children’s sexual experiences and drug use and if anyone might have abused them.

Things are much better homeschooling. Two of my kids were finally able to skip a grade, so now they are working at a level that actually challenges them. My two that needed IEPs are getting one on one and are able to work at their own pace. And I’m NOT accountable to BESE 🙂 Maybe they’ll get their act together, and a few of them will get unseated. Maybe John White would be de-throned. Then I would maybe consider public school again. I looked at the website for Tanglewood so I could give you the name of the lady who told me my son could receive “intervention” but no “services” unless I filled out that stupid paper. She’s not on there anymore, so I don’t know what happened with her.

Of course refusing services because a parent refused to complete an illegal questionnaire is illegal, but despite 129 employees being paid at LDOE with Special Education funds, there is literally no one to train these folks, no one to oversee them, no one for parents to complain to and obtain any help.  Parents are forced to either subject themselves to illegal requirements or have their services illegally denied.  Parents are forced to withdraw their kids and homeschool them or simply forced to watch their kids suffer while LDOE and John White doles out SPED funding to vastly unqualified political appointees.

St Tammany and Central are by no means the only school systems suffering from neglect and malfeasance.  Most of our districts are suffering in one way or another but cataloguing all the stories would require several volumes.

This last story clearly illustrates the situation.  I contacted Kathy Edmonston, the Parent Resource Facilitator for the Ascension Parish School System, to get her take on Special Education in Louisiana under LDOE’s guidance. (Kathy is also a District 6 candidate for the upcoming 2015 BESE election.)    She had this to say about how disabled children are faring in her parish school system:

Hey Jason. Thank you for taking time to express concern for our SPED kids.  They are struggling so much with the new standards. My title is Parent Resource Facilitator for Ascension Parish School System.  It looks as if it has been forgotten at DOE as it is difficult for parents to find any one there to talk to when they are experiencing difficulty in their schools. I have not been told so, but it seems that SPED department at state department has been dismantled. We in Ascension have done pretty well moving along with Act 833. It will be more fully implemented this coming school year.  The transition has been difficult as the DOE has given very little guidance.  If there had not been an ACT 833 steering committee established to stay on them, I am not sure if we would have gotten any direction!  Fortunately, we have a very good SPED director in Ascension who didn’t wait, but started digging right away and communicating with other parishes, so at the end of the year, most of our teachers knew what to do.  Since the implementation of the current [Common Core] standards, our SPED students are experiencing lots of stress and difficulty because they are taught and tested on standards that are above their academic functioning level.  It is so sad.  Parents have nowhere to turn, and teachers can’t answer their questions!

When I explained to Kathy many of the things I’d heard from the Ascension Parish leadership and that everything there was peachy keen, she had this to say:

Nothing is going peachy anywhere in the state right now!!!!!!!!!!!!  Ascension is struggling just like all other parishes in the state with the new “transformation” we are experiencing.  Our parents, teachers, but most importantly, our children.

I’d say that about sums things up nicely.

Note: ( Liz Gary was not a member of SEAP.  This piece has been edited to reflect that change.  We apologize for this error.)