Voucher rule hearing a mockery, LFT says

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(Baton Rouge – October 26, 2012) Thursday’s hearing on accountability rules for schools that receive tuition vouchers made a mockery of the process and reinforced suspicions that the state now has a policy in favor of private and religious schools over public education, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said today.

“The hearing at the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education should have been formatted to ensure that specific improvements to the voucher accountability rules could be fairly considered,” Monaghan said. “But before officials even had a chance to see all of the recommendations, it was made clear that changes would not get a fair hearing.”

The LFT, which had requested the hearing, was limited to just 10 minutes to present more than a dozen specific recommendations for making vouchers more accountable to parents and taxpayers.

“It is more than obvious that the proposed rules do not provide adequate oversight on private and religious schools set to receive hundreds of millions of public dollars,” Monaghan said.

"Unfortunately,” he said, “the meeting about the rules was conducted without real rules. We were not even permitted to complete our short presentation.”

Other groups that had come to the meeting prepared to offer suggestions were limited to just two minutes of testimony.

“We were all assured that our written concerns would be given due consideration,” Monaghan said. “But just after the meeting, BESE President Penny Dastuge told reporters, ‘I did not hear anything that would compel the board to react differently,’ and the Department of Education issued a statement praising those who had attended the meeting in support of vouchers.”

Six members of the 11-member BESE appeared at the hearing, Monaghan said, but no opportunity was offered for questions and answers about the Federation’s concerns.

At the beginning of the meeting, Monaghan said, BESE executive Director Heather Cope announced that all speakers should limit their comments to specific sections of Bulletin 133, the proposed accountability regimen for voucher schools.

Yet speaker after speaker was allowed to speak passionately in support of vouchers– which was not the subject of the hearing at all.

“This hearing had an important purpose,” Monaghan said. “BESE’s proposed rules do not provide adequate oversight of the voucher program. The so-called rules specifically empower the superintendent to waive every rule, and that renders the regulations meaningless."

"The meeting was allowed to devolve into a pep rally for vouchers instead of a serious discussion of proposed rules,” Monaghan said “This sent a very clear signal: the mission of the department of education is to champion vouchers and privatization by any means necessary, and any rules that get in the way of that agenda will not be tolerated.”