Walking the legal tightrope.

Since it appears that all of the news media has either completely missed it, or has chosen not to report on it, I think it is worth noting that Senator John Milkovich has filed a second lawsuit in East Baton Rouge Parish on behalf of 13 plaintiffs to challenge John White’s authority to maintain the position of superintendent of education. Somehow, the letter of the law on this issue is crystal clear to most citizens of Louisiana, except for those who happen to hold a seat on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Schools (BESE). John White has a long history of dancing on a tightrope that spans between legal and illegal, occasionally touching ground on the illegal side; without fear of being challenged. While it was the previous BESE that provided White with the ladder to get on the rope, the current BESE appears willing to provide a safety net in case he falls.

Like all states, a portion of the dollars in the department of education budget passes through the department as federal funds. The amount varies from state to state, but typically amounts to about 20% of the total budget. Prior to White’s arrival, LDOE had a department dedicated to providing support to special education departments and teachers at the district level. The salaries of these employees were paid via the federal funds, and the bulk of the federal funds passed through to the districts where it could be used under the guidelines of No Child Left Behind.

Shortly after arriving, White dismantled the special education department, and began to have other employees with LDOE document hours spent on special education hours on their timecards. Often times, employees reported hours when they didn’t actually spend any time, at all, on special education issues. This was described in detail by former LDOE employee, Jason France, in his Crazy Crawfish blog which was republished by the National Education Policy Center. In addition, White continued to lay off employees to free up payroll dollars. After laying off personnel, he reclassified the job titles in a manner that would allow him to freely determine salaries as opposed to adhering to a specified salary range per Civil Service. France documented and explained this process in this blog Fun With Payroll Files. Making these changes allowed White to bring in his associates in education reform and pay them handsome salaries.

In addition to this creative funding of salaries, the amount of federal dollars flowing through to district special education departments has been drastically reduced leaving them with fewer resources to serve special needs students. Instead, these funds are held back and districts are required to apply for various grants to fund programs that will support improvement in schools that need them the most. These programs generally come with stipulations that the recipient agrees to follow a particular instructional delivery or teacher compensation model and more recently, particular curricula. One of the stipulations in the new Louisiana ESSA plan, written and submitted by White, requires that schools identified and targeted as needing intensive support utilize curriculum that has been deemed Tier 1 by LDOE.

Louisiana Revised Statute 17:351.1 outlines the process that LDOE is required to follow in reviewing curriculum for use in Louisiana schools. It expressly states that the purpose of the review is determine the extent to which the curricula is aligned with state academic standards. It goes on to say that local districts are not obligated to purchase the curricula reviewed by LDOE, and there is nothing to prevent a district from purchasing curriculum that isn’t on the State’s review list. District are free to choose the curriculum that suits the needs of its students.

In the description of the review process, it is required that all of the following information be made readily available and accessible by anyone who wants to view it.

  1. A timeline of the process including submission, review, comment and evaluation of curriculum.
  2. The membership of the review panel including each member’s qualification to be on the panel such as experienced classroom teachers and content experts.
  3. The specific criteria and procedures used to determine the extent to which the curriculum is aligned to state academic standards.
  4. The scoring of curriculum made by each member of the panel and any comments made by publishers in response to panel evaluations.
  5. Any comments submitted by the public.

It appears that a complete review process was not conducted. If you go to the Louisiana Believes website, you’ll find a multitude of documents available to peruse; however, it is a shallow attempt to appear in compliance. There are copies blank rubrics that show what a review looks like. There are spreadsheets that include a single statement as justification for the decision to rank the curricula as Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 3. And, if you have time to look through all of them, you’ll find that it also includes the publishers’ reviews of their own publications and how they align with state academic standards. While there is plenty evidence of a review process, there is no evidence of the process in action.

The state is required to facilitate the purchase of curriculum for districts by negotiating prices with publishers. Districts have been made to feel that if they don’t choose a Tiered curriculum, they aren’t team players and don’t have the best interest of the children in mind. I’ve been told that Tier 2 and Tier 3 curricula are getting more and more difficult to purchase. This, combined with grants that require the use of Tier 1 curriculum, is forcing the use of a particular curriculum, and is a violation of this statute.

In the next blog, I share more creative use of funds with questionable legality.

One thought on “Walking the legal tightrope.”

  1. The reading and math curriculum that White bullies districts into purchasing are absolutely inappropriate and ineffective. (I am convinced that he is pocketing money from the sale of them.) They are not professional, as well know publishing companies are. They are extremely hard for inexperienced teachers to use, and stifle a teacher’s creativity and personal style of teaching. I voted for Governor Edwards in hopes that he would somehow force White out and clean up the LDOE. I will still vote for him in the next election, but I am disappointed that White is still heading the LDOE. Our state’s teachers deserve better. Our state’s students deserve better. I continue to hope that White goes sooner rather than later. I have 3 years until retirement, followed by 3 years of drop. I am tired of sitting back as an educator, and watching our state’s public education continue in the wrong direction. I plan to run for an elected office, once I retire, so that I can help to bring common sense back into public education, if I am fortunate enough to be elected.

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