Archives for category: Louisiana


Bracey Harris writes in The Hechinger Report that teacher activism is making the governors’ races in red states competitive. 

This is great news.

Paula Howard teaches in a Republican stronghold in north Mississippi, along the Tennessee border. She usually votes Republican and is closely following the campaign of Jerry Darnell, a Republican educator running to represent Howard’s home district in the state Legislature.

But — while energized about the possibility of sending a conservative colleague to the state Capital — for governor she’s backing the Democrat, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. She likes his calls to dramatically increase funding for education, including raising teacher pay, directing an additional $300 million to school districts, and expanding the state’s public pre-K program.

And, like other teachers around the state, she hasn’t forgiven the GOP’s gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, for opposing a 2015 school funding initiative that would have increased money for education.

“It’s not about a ticket,” Howard said. “It’s about what they can do for our children…”

Spending on education is a wedge issue in the other two governor’s races this year, in Louisiana and Kentucky. A teacher sickout roiled the Bluegrass State in February, and the two candidates there have clashed on issues like teacher pensions and charter schools. Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker said part of the playbook for Democratic candidates is to stay focused on local and state issues.

Republican candidates have made low taxes their highest priority. But voters seem to recognize that low taxes hurt schools and children.

If Southerners started voting for the best interests of their communities and their state, not for the wily promises of the 1%, it would be a new day for the South.



The Walton Family is collectively worth more than $150 billion, and their hobby is undermining and disrupting public schools across the nation. Since Louisiana has an election for the state board of education in a few days, you will not be surprised to learn that Jim and Alice Walton dropped $200,000 on candidates pledged to support charter schools, vouchers, and Teach for America.

Mercedes Schneider reports in this post that the Waltons waited until close to Election Day so that Louisianans would not have time to learn that out-of-State billionaires were trying to buy the state board elections.

The Waltons are determined to harm the public schools that educated their father Sam Walton and most of them.

The family belongs on the blog’s Wall of Shame for their ceaseless attacks on public schools, unions, experienced teachers, and communities.

Louisiana will hold elections for its state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on October 12. This year, as in the past, out-of-State billionaires are spending heavily to keep control of the state board to promote privatization policies. During the tenure of State Superintendent John White, a former deputy to Joel Klein in New York, the state’s ranking on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Is near the absolute bottom in both mathematics and reading, in both 4th and 8th grades. New Orleans has gone all-Charter and its score are in the bottom third of the state’s districts while its schools are highly segregated and stratified. This much is clear: Disruption has won control of the state board but done nothing to improve education.

BESE recommendations from veteran educator Michael Deshotels –
Dear Friend of Public Education:
With just a few days left before the election of a new BESE, you can help restore sanity and independence to our State Board of Education.
Out of state donors are making huge contributions to elect candidates that LABI  and John White will totally control. You will surely see their ads in your mailbox and on radio and television. Do not be deceived! These are not friends of public education. They will be committed to John White,  school privatization, obsessive testing, crushing test prep., etc.  But the results of these so called reforms have been terrible using the very measures they (the reformers) think are so important; Our ranking on NAEP is the worst ever! Why would we want to continue failed policies? Just so that LABI never has to admit that they were wrong, that they know noting about education, and that our students are suffering instead of thriving because of their takeover of education?  See this latest post on my blog.
Here is my abbreviated voting guide listing independent minded, solid public education advocates. Please do your best to get them elected!
District 1: including St. Tammany and Jefferson. I recommend Lee Barrios
District 2: including Orleans, St. Charles, St. John, St. James and part of Assumption: I recommend Dr. Ashonta Wyatt
District 3: including St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Lafourche, Terrebonne, St. Mary, Iberia, St. Martin, part of Iberville and part of St. Landry: I recommend Janice Perea.
District 5: including Northeast LA and down to Rapides and Evangeline Parishes. I recommend Dr. Stephen Chapman
District 6: including EBR, Livingston, Ascension, Tangipahoa, and Washington Parishes. I recommend Gregory Spiers
District 7: including Southwest LA. I recommend Timmie Melancoin
District 8: including part of EBR, East and West Feliciana, St. Helena, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, Avoyelles, part of St. Landry part of St. Martin, and part of Assumption. I recommend Vereta Lee.


Mercedes Schneider discovered that Oregon-based Stand for Children is pouring money into school board races in Louisiana. Why should an Oregon organization try to choose school board elections in another state? That’s the way the Disruption Movement works. The funding comes from the usual sources, none of which is based in Louisiana.

She writes:

Since 2012, hundreds of thousands of dollars has flowed into Louisiana elections from this Portland, Oregon, ed-reform organization, and when I examined the campaign finance filings for these three PACs, I discovered only two Louisiana contributors to one of the PACs, the Stand for Children LA PAC…

SFC is anti-union, pro-Common Core, pro-school choice—usual corporate-ed-reform fare. As for some of its major money: Since 2010, the Walton Family Foundation has funded SFC (via the SFC Leadership Center$4.1M, with $400,000 specifically earmarked for Louisiana.

Then, there’s the Gates funding…

It all sounds so locally-driven, so grass-rootsy.

It’s probably best to not mention that SFC in Oregon finances the show.


When I first started writing this blog in 2012, Louisiana’s then Governor Bobby Jindal was crowing about his new voucher plan. He and his state commissioner John White insisted that vouchers were a wonderful innovation. They would save poor children from failing public schools. They would give poor children the same choices that rich children have. All the DeVos baloney was served up.

We now know that none of this was true. Most of the voucher money went to backwoods evangelical church schools that did not have certified teachers or a real curriculum. Some of the voucher schools relied on the state money to keep their doors open. The “opportunity” was not for the students, but for the schools, which were glad to have the money from the state.

Now an organization called The Center for Investigative Reporting reveals what we anticipated: most students who use vouchers attend schools that are rated D or F by the State Education Department that funds them. The state is subsidizing no-quality education.

Read the article here.

The vouchers are an expensive hoax. They are not saving poor children from failing schools. Most of them ARE failing schools.

This story was produced by FOX8 WVUE, | The Times-Picayune and WWNO New Orleans Public Radio as part of Reveal’s Local Labs initiative, which supports lasting investigative reporting collaborations in communities across the United States.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal beamed with pride in April 2012, as he signed into law one of the most sweeping school choice expansions in the nation.

The law was lauded by the American Federation for Children, then chaired by future Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and other school choice advocates. Like Jindal, they said it would free countless lower-income children from the worst public schools by allowing them to use state tax dollars in the form of vouchers to pay tuition at private schools, where they would ostensibly receive a better education.

“Our children do not have time to wait,” Jindal had said as he spent some of his waning political capital on what he felt would become a major part of his political legacy in Louisiana. “They only grow up once, and they have one shot to receive a quality education.”

Seven years later, however, the $40 million-a-year Louisiana Scholarship Program has failed to live up to its billing. The nearly 6,900 students who’ve left public schools have instead been placed into a system with numerous failing private schools that receive little oversight, a monthslong examination by a coalition of local and national media organizations has found.

Two-thirds of all students in the voucher system attended schools where they performed at a D or F level last school year, according to a data analysis by | The Times-Picayune, WVUE Fox 8 News, WWNO and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

Mercedes Schneider reports that the Louisiana PAC created by a small number of out-of-state billionaires to buy control of the State Board is disbanding.

She writes:

In 2015, six out-of-state billionaires from four families contributed a combined $3M to influence the outcome of Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) election.

The PAC was just dissolved.

What will happen in Louisiana without millions from the Waltons, Michael Bloomberg, John Arnold, and Eli Broad?

The New Orleans myth continues to crumble, despite efforts by privatizers to call it a miracle.

The latest state scores (LEAP) were released, and the scores in New Orleans stalled or dipped. While the state average held steady from 2018 to 2019, the proportion of students who reached “mastery” on state tests dropped from 32% to 30%.

New Orleans scores continue to rank significantly below state averages. Louisiana is one of the lowest-performing states in the nation on NAEP.

The few high-performing private charters have selective admissions. Most of the city’s private charter schools are far below the state average. Most of the city’s charters perform far below the city’s average.

Last year, an extraordinary 30% of NOLA teachers quit. The charter promoter New Schools for New Orleans says teachers should have more professional development and higher pay.

Although the privatization lobby likes to claim that test scores and graduation rates have miraculously improved since the district’s schools were privatized, there is no valid comparison because the enrollment before and after Hurricane Katrina is very different. Enrollment was about 62,000 before the storm, and 48,000 now. It is not only much smaller, but less impoverished, with less concentrated poverty. Many of the poorest families left NOLA and never returned.


Mercedes Schneider has followed the fortunes of Kira Orange-Jones, executive director of Teach for America in Louisiana, who was elected to the State Board with a large infusion of campaign funds from out-of-state Reformers In 2011 and 2015. Schneider continues her scrutiny here. Schneider notes that Orange-Jones has failed to file required financial disclosures and that her actual physical residence is in doubt, especially since she married another TFA alum who served for a time as Acting Secretary of Education in New Me O’Connell. In addition, Orange-Jones has missed about one-third of school board meetings.

In both 2011 and 2015, corporate-reform-promoting millionaires and billionaires purchased the majority of seats on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).

One of their purchases is Teach for America (TFA) executive director, Kira Orange-Jones.

Even though Orange-Jones has been BESE District 2 representative for almost eight years, she has yet to file her annual disclosure reports for 2017 and 2018.

One critical bit of information on the annual disclosure is the representative’s physical address. On this point, Orange-Jones’ actual address becomes a bit cloudy.

On the last annual disclosure that Orange-Jones filed– for 2016— Orange-Jones identifies her address as on Laurel Street in New Orleans. On the same disclosure report, Orange-Jones also acknowledges her marriage to Christopher Ruszkowski, who was at the time deputy secretary of education in New Mexico. In 2018, Ruszkowski became “secretary designee” at the NM Department of Ed when he replaced Hanna Skandera. It seems that Ruszkowski exited by 2019.

On Ruszkowski’s 2017 and 2018 financial disclosure reports, he lists a NM address. Orange-Jones’ residence remains unclear. (One can search those forms here by looking up “ruszkowski” and selecting “2017” and “2018.”)

Since Orange-Jones has not filed the required financial disclosures for 2017 and 2018, the public does not know if Orange-Jones maintained a residence in her district, one of the qualifications for serving on BESE.

But there’s more.

Orange-Jones plans to run for re-election in October 2019. The Louisiana Secretary of State has her address as being on Philip Street in New Orleans. (One can view this info here by searching “parish candidates” on the side bar; selecting “BESE District 2,” and then clicking “view candidates for selected race(s).”)

Examination of property tax records for the Philip Street address shows that the owner is NJS Properties; according to details of the search, “NJS” stands for Norma J. Sabiston.

On Orange-Jones’ July 2019 campaign finance report for the upcoming, October 2019, BESE election, one of Orange-Jones’ expenditures is $15,000 to Sabaston Consultants, whose president is Norma Jane Sabiston.

Does Orange-Jones live at the Philip Street address, or has her consultant provided the address in an attempt to legitimize Orange-Jones as a District 2 resident? Has Orange-Jones forfeited a New Orleans address at any point since her last, 2016, annual filing?

There is more. Open the link and read on.

Reformers have a lot of gall.


Mercedes Schneider reports a welcome development in New Orleans: in the wake of a grade-fixing scandal, all student records will be audited.

As she says, it is about time. After so much boasting from NOLA, it’s time to check the facts.

She writes:

This is a long time coming.

As a result of the grade-fixing scandal at a New Orleans charter high school– a scandal that resulted in 49 percent of the school’s Class of 2019 being found to lack credits and/or exit exam scores– Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) superintendent, Henderson Lewis, vows a criminal investigation of that school, Kennedy High School (operated by New Beginnings Schools Foundation) as well as an audit of student records for students attending New Orleans high schools.



Mercedes Schneider wrote a post about the abysmal failure of Measure EE in Los Angeles, which needed a 2/3 vote to pass but did not receive a majority. The turnout was shockingly low. Probably the measure should have been added to a general election. Special one-issue elections always have low turnout. That could cut either way but in this case it cut against the needs of children to have a quality education.

She zeroes in on the issue of teacher salary. The average pay for teachers in Los Angeles is $74,000. She notes that Rick Hess of the rightwing think tank American Enterprise Institute sees that number as “reasonable,” and that sets Mercedes off.

In his June 06, 2019, Forbes piece about the failure of Measure EE, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) career think-tanker Frederick Hess does not address the issue of low voter turnout. Instead, he focuses mostly on the teacher salary component.

Hess implies that the average LAUSD teacher salary of $74,000 a year “strikes a lot of Americans as pretty reasonable.”

Let us take a moment to contextualize AEI and Hess.

The mission of AEI as listed on its tax forms is as follows:

The American Enterprise Institute is a community of scholars and supporters committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening free enterprise. AEI pursues these ideals through independent thinking and the highest standards of research and exposition.

It should be noted that in 2018, Hess drew a comfortable $235K (up from $197K in 2013) as an AEI “resident scholar,” which has our armchair educator hovering nowhere near that “pretty reasonable” $74K he mentions. Furthermore, AEI president Arthur Brooks garnered an amazing salary boost from 2017 to 2018, doubled from $1.1M to $2.2M, and executive VP David Gerson also doubling his salary, from $526K to $1.1M.

At the end of 2018, AEI listed total net assets of $321M.

Hess pens his think-tankery about education from a plush perch.

Is $74,000 a “reasonable” salary for a professional in Los Angeles (or for those professionals who make less)?

Mercedes says she makes $60,000 after many years of teaching in Louisiana. Is that reasonable? It would be unreasonable in Los Angeles or D.C. or New York City.

Well, read it. It’s Mercedes doing what she does best: using her razor-sharp intellect to dissect condescension.