Dear Governor-elect John Bel Edwards:
It has already begun with a recent meeting of education reform advocacy groups led, oddly enough, by the 100 Black Men of Metro New Orleans, which is now offering training on how to be a charter school board member (at least according to its website), to discuss an agenda for public education reform and the impact you will have on their efforts.
It has already started with news outlets printing headline after headline raising the question of how your governorship will impact the current reform movement that has swept through Louisiana, especially New Orleans, like a tidal wave.
“They” are wondering and worried whether you will erase the reforms they have put in place over the last eight to 10 years. They were worried before you were elected, so much so that high-profile individuals among them made statements and raised questions about your education stances before the runoff election–seemingly happy to see Vitter win if it meant saving their precious vouchers and charters. Truth is they are nervous.
Make no mistake—we rather like it that way.
And by “they”, we are referring to local and state leaders, elected and otherwise, who have been co-opted by this so-called reform movement and have turned our public schools over to profiteers for their own gain–political, financial or otherwise.
“They” should be nervous. The very thought of what might happen as it relates to public education in our state after January 11, 2016, should have them trembling in their boots. They should be sweating.
In our fantasy, we wake up on January 12 to the news that you have fired John White, limited the state Board of Education’s ability to grant charters, closed the Recovery School District and ditched Common Core.
That’s just our fantasy. Of course, we expect that you will maneuver and implement change in a cautious, reasonable and, well . . . political manner. The fact that you will take a route slightly different than the one about which we daydream is already evidenced by your selection of Leslie Jacobs to your 53-member panel to study K-12 public education committee. Arguably the architect of the current reform movement, Jacobs is definitely NOT a part of our post-election, public education fantasy. And we are not afraid to let you know that it is an appointment that raised an eyebrow here. Nonetheless, we look at your record and your words and we have to believe that you will do the right things.
So let’s be clear, Mr. Edwards, we expect change. And we hope that you will not be swayed from your positions—positions already made public by your own words and your deeds as a state legislator. Let’s be honest, if we expected things to stay the same, David Vitter would be moving into the governor’s mansion next month instead of you.
We have been waiting to exhale. And by “we”, we are referring to the cadre of parents, students, educators, advocates, and taxpayers who have over and again expressed our dismay and outrage at the well-funded corporate reform movement that has implemented these wide-sweeping changes with little or no regard for the deleterious impact on students and the erosion of public education. By “we”, we are referring to the folks who have seen right through the false claims of success and the skewed, “muddied narratives” of this so-called reform and who know what it has really been—a hostile takeover of public funds and facilities for private gain.
So yes, we rejoiced at your election. Finally, a governor not afraid to say that local, public education should be controlled locally. A governor who, as a state legislator, did not sit silently as charter-managed schools littered the public education landscape, but instead offered legislation that would have controlled the proliferation of these quasi-private institutions. A governor who has expressed his opposition to vouchers.
And yes, the fact that you were one of the state House members that voted in favor of HB 166, which would have returned successful schools to the Orleans Parish School Board, has us eager and energized.
So you should know they are meeting and coalescing and otherwise planning ways to influence your positions on public education.
You spoke with The New Orleans Tribune shortly before the general election, during which you said you favored local control of local schools and that the Recovery School District was “always meant to be a temporary fix.” We agree.
Of course, “they” are worried about what your tenure will mean for the 7,000 vouchers (serving less than one percent of all Louisiana public school students) issued across the state, the more than 100 charters, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the job of the state education superintendent.
While you have made no mention of ending the voucher program, any attention you would give to revamping it would be welcome. As you know, this so-called scholarship program does little more than take public money meant for public schools and funnels it to private and parochial institutions that may or may not be providing quality educational opportunities without addressing the most important issue—which is how to ensure that each and every one of the more than 700,000 public school students is getting the very best education possible in our public schools.
Lest we forget, the state education department, in the not so distant past, approved vouchers for a private school that didn’t even have adequate desks, teachers or class space. So if as governor, you opt to at least initiate an overhaul of the dubious Louisiana voucher system, it would be a welcomed event.
We know that you have raised some questions regarding the academic and fiscal accountability of the many quasi-private charter schools. And you were right to do so. With charter schools employees making off with all kinds of money and the poor fiscal oversight of the RSD, which has led to legislative audits questioning missing assets and equipment at these schools, someone should question it. You have introduced legislation to limit the unfettered growth of charter schools. And we applaud that effort.
Essentially, here’s what we are saying to you Governor-elect Edwards: We are looking to you to remain steadfast in your beliefs and the positions you have taken throughout your legislative career despite the well-organized, ridiculously-well funded forces mounting their campaigns to persuade you otherwise.
True Public Education Advocates Like Your Wife, The Teacher