Did Governor Bobby Jindal’s staff and Louisiana’s state education superintendent conspire to suppress a news story that the state had “not performed site visits or extensive review of voucher applications?” It looks like it. From reporter Barbara Leader in the Monroe News-Star:
Emails between Louisiana Education Superintendent John White, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s spokesman Kyle Plotkin and Jindal’s policy adviser Stafford Palmieri show White devising a scheme to “muddy up a narrative” and to “take some air out of the room” after a news report about the new voucher program that was published before his Senate confirmation hearing in May.
In the email exchange, White proposes creating a news story about the “due diligence” process for school voucher approvals to counter the impact of a News-Star article that revealed the state Department of Education had not performed site visits or extensive review of voucher applications.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee was to consider recommending White’s position be made permanent, but according to the emails, White appeared more concerned about damage control from the article about New Living Word School’s voucher award that had appeared five days before and the passage of the Minimum Foundation Program, which appeared tenuous at the time.
Looks like Louisiana’s privatization zealots operate under theses rules of engagement: the ends justifies the means. Not everyone is on board:
Sen. Bob Kostelka, R- West Monroe, and Murray, D-New Orleans, both expressed concerns Sunday about the email between White, Plotkin and Palmieri.
“I’m not a bit surprised at this clandestine contact,” Kostelka said. “He was planning on how to CYA before he got to our committee, obviously. This is the first time that he said this was preliminary, not final and they were going to do due diligence.”
“This whole thing was portrayed as giving the children a better opportunity so it doesn’t surprise me that the administration was trying to do something to block that information,” Murray said. “I know that the administration was not prepared to answer questions and the answers they gave were not forthcoming about the voucher program.”
So Louisiana’s privatizers wanted that voucher bill at ANY cost – including not making sure schools were safe and suitable for the state’s children. As members of Jindal’s staff were involved, the governor will not be able to dodge media inquiries. But the damage is done to the reputation of White as he deliberately attempted to keep knowledge of weaknesses in the voucher accountability system away from Louisianans.
UPDATE: Yesterday’s New Orleans Time-Picayune story.