LFT recognizes Gannett and The Nation for education journalism

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(Baton Rouge – November 18, 2012) Six members of the Gannett newspaper chain’s reporting team were recognized by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers today for their groundbreaking series of reports on education issues emerging from the 2012 Louisiana legislative session.

Also receiving a School Bell Award for Excellence in Education Journalism was Matthew Cunningham-Cook, a reporter for The Nation magazine, who investigated the role that billionaire donors played in last year’s election to the state board of education.

The Gannett team included Icess Fernandez of the Shreveport Times, Mike Hasten of Gannett’s Capitol bureau, Caitlin Jacob of the Lafayette Daily Advertiser, Barbara Leader of the Monroe News-Star, Jeff Matthews of the Alexandria Daily Town Talk, Nicholas Persac of the Lafayette Daily Advertiser and Mary Nash-Wood of the Shreveport Times.

In a unique exercise in cooperation, reporters for the four Gannett daily Louisiana newspapers and its capitol bureau worked together to create an early and comprehensive series of reports on the Jindal administration’s education agenda in the 2012 legislative session.

Their multimedia effort led the pack in exploring issues as wide-ranging as the legislative agenda’s ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the money trail from the Department of Education to private contractors, and the state’s breathtaking ignorance of the shortcomings of schools selected to receive tuition vouchers.

Other reporters did commendable work this year, but the Gannett team’s gang-tackle of the Jindal administration agenda was an unprecedented and essential allocation of resources to connect so many of the dots and draw a picture of the administration’s intent.

In his reporting on the 2011 Board of Elementary and Secondary Education elections, Matthew Cunningham-Cook revealed that candidates aligned with Gov. Jindal’s education agenda were the beneficiaries of nearly $2.4 million in campaign contributions. That is more money than had ever been spent before on the eight positions, which have no salary. In contrast, those opposed to the Jindal agenda collected less than $200,000 in contributions.

The money tsunami benefitting the so-called reformers was largely donated by what Cunningham-Cook described as “a coterie of extremely wealthy billionaires, among them New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.”

Cunningham-Cook’s painstaking research uncovered the payoff for donors. Hundreds of millions of dollars are there for the taking by education entrepreneurs who are the beneficiaries of Gov. Jindal’s plan to privatize public education.

His story, “Why Do Some of America's Wealthiest Individuals Have Fingers in Louisiana's Education System?,” also touched on the roles played by Jindal, Superintendent of Education John White, the Louisiana Legislature and a network of interest groups that sprang up to support the privatization scheme.

The story is a must-read for anyone interested in the hidden agenda behind the so-called education reform movement in Louisiana.