John White is State Superintendent of Schools in Louisiana. He had a meteoric career after his stint in Teach for America. He worked for Joel Klein in New York City, quickly rising to become Deputy Chancellor in charge of closing public schools to make room for charters. As Klein’s tenure ended, White landed the job as superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District. After a few months, he was selected as state superintendent. There, he was a champion of Bobby Jindal’s program of privatization: vouchers, charters, tuition grants to private entrepreneurs, virtual charters, Common Core. He is the corporate reformer par excellence, ready and willing to privatize and extinguish public schools.
Things went well until Jindal realized that the Common Core had turned toxic and threatened his presidential ambitions. Jindal abandoned it, White stuck with it. They had a celebrated feud. But the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education backed White, and he survived.
Mercedes Schneider predicts he won’t survive the new Governor-elect, John Bel Edwards, who said during his campaign that White must go. Edwards is a supporter of public education; his wife is a teacher.
How can Edwards get rid of White when he has the support of the BESE? As Mercedes explains, the governor controls the budget. He also has the power to push through an ethics bill that would knock two members off BESE, including the state director of TFA, whose organization receives contracts from BESE.
Edwards spoke to a meeting of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and told them that he would not close charters or end vouchers. But he says he will insist on greater accountability. That is not a great message, but at least the war on teachers will end.
Mercedes Schneider posted a transcription of his remarks and video to clarify what he said. On charters, he said that the decision to open charters should be made by local school boards, not the state board. As he spoke, the BESE is preparing to impose more charters without any local control. Edwards wisely noted that when a state bypasses the community, the voters are less likely to support bond issues for their schools, which are no longer theirs. Edwards also noted that some of the worst schools in the state are voucher schools. In a somewhat contradictory point, he says voucher schools should only serve only kids trapped in failing schools, but why send a child from a low-performing public school to a failing voucher school?
Note to Governor-elect Edwards: Please hire Mercedes Schneider, experienced teacher, dogged researcher, and skilled writer, as your education advisor.