Here we were hopeful that BESE member and local Teach for America executive Kira Orange Jones would take a page from former state board of ethics vice chairman and Tulane University employee Scott Schneider and resign one of the positions that create a conflict of interest in her role on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
We were so wrong.
Not only has she not been forced to abandon her local role as a TFA executive in order to keep her BESE seat, Orange Jones has now assumed state-wide responsibility for the national organization that has built its reputation recruiting mostly young, often unprepared individuals to “teach” with the lure of college loan forgiveness. (What TFA really stands for: Two-years, debt-Free, Abscond.)
Recap: Orange Jones served as the head of the New Orleans TFA office prior to her election to BESE (the result of a well-funded campaign by local and outside entities with an interest in expanding so-called education reform measures that have done little more than privatize public education to the detriment of the very children they claim it would help). After she won the election, astute onlookers correctly noted that Orange Jones should give up her job with TFA as the state of Louisiana has contracts with TFA to supply its recruits in classrooms across the state and especially here in New Orleans. So the question goes before the ethics board, whose very own staff says that Orange Jones positions with TFA and BESE clash. Then, in what must have been a head-spinning meeting, Schneider argues against the ethics board’s own staff position, passionately pleading Orange Jones’ case for maintaining both posts, arguing that because she was not the head of the national office her role with TFA does not conflict with her BESE membership.
Really? If that ethics board meeting were a text message, someone would have surely inserted “LOL” after Schneider finished talking.
But the truth is, it was no laughing matter; and it is easy to see how Schneider could gloss over Orange Jones’ conflict of interest as he gave little consideration to his own. He lobbied to allow Orange Jones to maintain both posts despite staff recommendation when what he should have been doing was recusing himself from the matter altogether given his job as assistant general counsel for Tulane University, which through its Cowen Institute has a partnership with TFA and has played a role in the spreading of the education reforms that have made it easier for the national organization to establish its extreme presence in this city and state.
A few weeks after we called Schneider out in the pages of The Tribune, he resigned from the ethics board. And we were encouraged, optimistic even, that Orange Jones would also come to her senses and stop taking the people of New Orleans and Louisiana for a ride. The bottom line is that as an executive for TFA at any level—national, state or local—she cannot and will not act on any issues involving TFA that come before BESE in an unbiased and fair-minded way. Her dual positions are unethical. Bottom line. But thanks to Schneider’s ability to sway his fellow ethics board members, she has been allowed to maintain them.
So why shouldn’t she take on state-wide responsibilities? Hell, Kira Orange Jones should just become the executive director of the national TFA office as it is obvious that fair-mindedness, objectivity and parity are words that mean absolutely nothing in Louisiana and New Orleans—especially when it comes to ramrodding an unfair, unequal reform agenda that has nothing to do with education down the throats of the people of our city and state.
Hope hardly floats. And though any chance that our state will put a halt to its misguided education reform efforts any time soon seems dim, it only strengthens our resolve to speak the truth to and for our community…especially when no one else will dare to.