We ask, “What’s Going On?” because something is clearly wrong, downright twisted, in fact, when our elected officials—individuals charged with serving our communities—lend their considerable influence, support and official endorsements in a race as important as BESE to the District 2 incumbent Kira Orange Jones despite what we and everyone else knows to be the truth about the state of public education in Orleans Parish.
It’s like a Marvin Gaye-Michael Jackson mishmash playing in our heads over here.
Jones and others ought to be called out for furthering a so-called reform movement that has dismantled public education in our city and put, in its place, a hodge-podge of independent charter operations that operate with so little transparency and accountability and so much unchecked authority that special education students have consistently been ignored and one of these so-called miracle schools actually thought they could get away with graduating dozen of students that failed to meet state requirements by fixing grades, fudging transcripts and not offering the appropriate curriculum.
These injustices have hurt students, parents and taxpayers of New Orleans.
More egregious is the fact that our schools are not better. Based on the state’s 2018 school performance data, 58 of 74 New Orleans public schools earned letter grades of C, D or F; and 28 schools had a SPS of 60 or below–scores that would have gotten taken over by the state before Hurricane Katrina. In fact, based on the 2018 SPS data, only six of 74 schools earned an SPS score of 87.4 or better in the 2018 SPS assessment. The rest of the lot—68 schools—earned less than 87.4, and would have been considered failing even before Katrina.
Did we mention that charter schools in Orleans Parish have a chronic history of failing to provide services to special education students? That fact was recently given a name and face when one parent spoke frankly in a story that appeared in the local daily about how his own daughter was shuffled through the system, never receiving the help she needed and couldn’t even count money as she prepared to start her senior year.
Then there has been the corruption—missing property, stolen funds—all taking place with unelected boards at the helm of independent schools.
School performance scores have not been released for 2019 yet; but here is the real deal—the state department of education and
BESE have played with the numbers and the formulas so much since 2005—raising the minimum SPS to facilitate the takeover of our schools, then lowering it again to mask the failure of charters, that it is virtually impossible to know what’s really going on in public education.
State Supt. John White practically revealed the playbook back in 2012 when in an email about the state’s voucher program (another failure of this reform) to the Jindal administration, he suggested they would “muddy up the narrative” rather than face the heat over the program’s shortcomings.
Well, we are up to waist deep in mud or something fouler and far more ghastly.
Really—does any one really know what’s actually going on with public education right now in Louisiana? Really know?
The Joke is on Us
This reform is not an experiment anymore. We have our outcome. It has failed. It is a game, a disaster, and a joke. And the joke is on all of us, except we are not laughing.
Instead, we will keep calling out those who fail to protect our schools and the students they are supposed to serve. And we are adding to that list any elected official—Black or White, but especially Black—that continues to, through acquiescence or all out collusion, play a role in this travesty.
Yes, we take it rather personally when our community is hurt by the actions of leaders that look like us.
Of course, we call foul when others cause harm to our community. But we are not surprised. In fact, we realize that they are doing nothing less than the bidding of those they represent—even if it hurts “us”.
What we can’t wrap our heads around is the idea that folk who should be representing us, who ought to doing our bidding are hurting us too.
Why ask Why?
U.S. Congressman Cedric Richmond, City Councilman-at-Large Jason Williams and District D City Councilman Jared Brossett have endorsed Jones. We are actually quite certain that others will follow suit. And we have one question for them—WHY?
Okay, so we really don’t need to know why? How does the old saying go, we may have been born at night, but not last night. We know why. It’s politics; and politics is . . . well, it’s politics.
The straight, no-chaser answer is that it is politically expedient. There are political alliances at stake, not to mention future campaign contributions, friends to be made and friends to be maintained.
We actually wish politicians were bold enough to admit that truth instead of trying to convince us that the warm, yellowish, malodorous drops of liquid falling on our heads is rain.
Obviously, at the end of the day, Richmond, Williams and just about every other politician in the state, considers what every endorsement they render, every vote cast and every decision they make will mean for their ability garner the support of other politicians and raise money the next time they seek office. And they do so with wild abandon of what is in the best interest of the people who elected them.
As for the people the serve, they must assume that we are so happy to just have them in places of power—Congress, the state legislature, City Hall or some other position—that we won’t care what they do or at least we won’t remember how they deserted our community on the issues that matter.
Newsflash: We ain’t that happy. We do care. More than that, the folk here at The New Orleans Tribune should start a steady diet of grass, plants, fruit and twigs. We might as well eat just like elephants; we plan to have memories like them too.
Who’s Working for the People?
Jones has friends in high places. Look we know that she landed her BESE seat with the influx of obscene and unprecedented financial contributions from local, state and national big-money supporters of the so-called education reform movement that pushes the proliferation of charter schools, allows unelected boards to spend public money, and replaces veteran educators with Teach for America recruits.
With the likes of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation and others.
We also know that one of Jones’ biggest supporters is Leslie Jacobs, the architect of this disastrous reform and a former BESE member who continues to wield a great deal of influence of both the political and fiscal sort in New Orleans and throughout the state.
So yes, we get that the machine is behind Jones. And she has worked for the machine in her role on BESE.
But who’s working for us? When are our elected officials going to understand that who they endorse, support and build alliances with impacts the people they serve, people that elected them, people who trust them.
Give Us One Reason
Other than political practicality, what reason is there to endorse Jones? She hasn’t served the people of this city well. It arguable that she hasn’t served us at all.
But she has certainly earned her name. Kira Orange Jones has the juice. She has somehow dodged challenge after challenge to her qualifications to serve on BESE. Perhaps that too can be attributed to the list of the well heeled and powerful in her corner. But make no mistake, there have been more than a few credible challenges to her qualifications.
There is the fact that she worked as an executive for Teach for America who, as a BESE member, would have to vote on the state’s contracts with the organization. Simultaneously serving as an executive director for Louisiana TFA and on the state’s top board of education wreaks of conflict. She also has served as a board member for a non-profit called Instruction Partners (IP), professional development services vendor with the state department of education for 2018-19. Then there was her failure to file tax returns, which is required to run for office. According to media reports, she only sent in required tax returns one day before qualifying for the Oct. 12 primary.
Meanwhile, she has been habitually absent from BESE meetings, a fact that could be easily explained by the questions surrounding her residency. It has been alleged that Jones, whose husband Chris Ruszkowski is the former DOE secretary for New Mexico, isn’t even a resident of Louisiana any longer and hasn’t been for some time. Oddly enough, she has listed at least three separate residences on various reporting forms submitted to the state.
Making the Choice
But suspend that reality for just a moment.
Jones could have filed all of her tax returns on time, no, before the deadlines, resigned from her position with TFA and the IP Board, attended every BESE meeting 15 minutes early and stayed 15 minutes late. Hell, we could have seen her every day for the past eight years because she lives next door to us with her very own homestead exemption in a house where the tax assessment just tripled, and she would still not deserve to continue to represent BESE District 2 because of the one fact that matters most—this so-called reform has failed. And pro-reform members of the BESE do not deserve our votes or the endorsement of our elected officials based on that alone.
So when Councilmen Williams and Brossett say that the number of African-American students eligible for TOPS has increased and uses it as a talking point in their cookie-cutter endorsements of Jones, we have nothing but side-eye glance to give because we know that it has been under this reform movement and while Jones has been in her BESE seat that TOPS was turned on its head. Between 2005 and 2016, TOPS became little more than a cash cow for affluent White families across the state. In fact in 2016, 68 percent of TOPS recipients were White; and almost 67 percent of TOPS recipients came from homes where the household income was between $70,000 to more than $150,000 a year. Yet, almost 70 percent of public school students in the state are considered “economically disadvantaged.”
Barely 17 percent of TOPS recipients were Black in 2016 and less than 25 percent came from homes where there household income was $35,000 or less.
For those of you in the back, that means that public schools throughout Louisiana and in New Orleans, for sure, are failing to serve the students that need it most. Then to add insult to injury, our leaders have bastardized a program that was initially launched to help low-income students in such a way that it now primarily benefits affluent White families. The entire program needs to be revamped or thrown out all together—sort of like what needs to happen to BESE and the Orleans Parish School Board, too, for that matter.
Watching Congressman Richmond and Councilman Williams endorse Jones was tough for us. Publishing this editorial is tougher still.
We’d be less than honest if we didn’t admit that we expected more from our congressman, our at-large city councilman and some of the many others that we anticipate will also endorse Jones to detriment of our children.
Some of these leaders are folk who we have strongly supported in the past. But we are having an increasingly difficult time with the prospect of continuing to support those who clearly indicate that they are more concerned about political expediency than they are about the people they serve.
That’s where that Michael Jackson tune comes into play. They don’t really care about us. And we just can’t ignore it.
We consider education, and more specifically, the education of young African-Americans, one of the most important issues of our time. If our choice is between expediency and what’s “right”, we choose right.
This city and the public school students that call it home deserve that much. If no one else will speak the truth for them, we will.