Bob Mann Plays The New Living Word School Card In Trashing Vouchers

Anyone who pays attention to how the Left does rhetorical business knows how famous it is for straw man arguments and building policy pronouncements out of outlying cases. This is how any discussion of abortion inevitably results in a debate about whether a woman who is raped should be able to get one, or how the shockingly rare cases like Newtown or Aurora end up justifying attempts to restrict gun availability for people posing no danger to the community.

Or how a discussion of school choice in Louisiana ends up with a left-wing castigation of the New Living Word school in Ruston.

The latter, of course, being the topic of Bob Mann’s latest Times-Picayune Sunday screed

Despite embarrassing questions last year from legislators and the media about the school’s abysmal instruction, its lack of classroom space and the absence of qualified teachers, state Education Superintendent John White awarded the voucher slots.

Actually, calling this Ruston fly-by-night operation a “school” is like calling beef jerky prime rib. Yet, with full knowledge that the institution was little more than a shell of a school, White and Jindal handed it more than $600,000 of your money.

The damage to the state’s budget could have been worse. White’s department initially awarded New Living Word more voucher slots than any other school in the state. Only after the Monroe News-Star exposed the sordid mess was White forced to trim the number from 315 to 165. Last school year, the “school” enrolled only 93 voucher students.

News about New Living Word shamed Jindal and White and made national headlines. And that’s besides the additional unwelcome attention the voucher program attracted by virtue of awarding vouchers to schools that teach creationism, not real science.

In White’s defense, perhaps he has a poor memory or doesn’t read the papers. How else to explain his surprise last week at audits of the 117 Louisiana charter schools alleging, among other things, that New Living Word had overcharged the state $378,000.

Auditors said the school was bilking the taxpayers, charging the state-sponsored students far more than it billed its paying customers – an apparent violation of the legislation’s rules. The school denies the charges, but White promptly removed New Living Word from the voucher program.

There’s more in Mann’s piece, but the gist of it is that the state’s voucher program is a bad deal because one of the participants – a startup church school in Ruston which was attempting to leverage state voucher dollars into offering a competitive educational product and didn’t succeed – didn’t offer much excellence for the state’s dollar.

And was promptly busted out of the voucher program after a year, by Mann’s own admission.

Mann also alleges that a sizable number of the voucher schools in the program can’t be evaluated as worthwhile because of pieces of the state audit they haven’t completed, etc.:

And of the audits (basically internal investigations conducted by two Baton Rouge accounting firms), White trumpeted them as proof that his voucher program – save for New Living Word – is an unqualified success. The headline on a Department of Education press release proudly declared, “99 Percent of Schools Show No Violation.”

There’s just one problem with that statement: It’s patently false.

The audits were conducted to ensure that, “Scholarship funds shall be spent only on ‘educational purposes,’ as defined in the most recently approved Minimum Foundation Program formula. Any expenditure of scholarship funds constituting gross irresponsibility or gross individual enrichment is prohibited.”

In fact, the audits revealed that the afore-mentioned standard “could not be completed for forty-nine of the fifty-one private schools reviewed.” One audit is littered with the following statement, concerning the records of dozens of voucher schools: “We were unable to perform the procedures because the school did not have a separate checking account or other procedures to account for scholarship expenditures separate from other expenditures.”

Interestingly, Mann didn’t mention the irony of his complaining about how voucher dollars are fungible when he and his ideological cohorts deny that fact when it comes to, say, Planned Parenthood.

Or with regular public education, as the case may be, because nobody really believes MFP money goes straight into the classroom. But Mann isn’t one to complain about that.

Back to the New Living Word example he alleges proves that school choice is a failure in Louisiana. New Living Word is in Ruston, and it focuses primarily on elementary education.

There’s a public elementary school New Living Word would be competing with; namely, Ruston Elementary School.

Would it surprise Bob Mann to know that Ruston Elementary is an “F” school with just 45 percent of its students at grade level in English and only 39 percent in math?

If New Living Word is doing its students such a disservice by using DVD’s to teach them, what does he think about the methods at Ruston Elementary?

Because after all, Mann’s $6,300-per-student outrage at New Living Word becomes his $9,242-per-student silence at Ruston Elementary. In other words, he has no problem with kids not learning in union-dominated traditional public schools at a cost of $3,000 per year more than what vouchers would cost us – but try something new and he goes ballistic if he can find one straw man.

Again, Education Secretary John White got rid of New Living Word after only one year. Did New Living Word bilk the state out of money? Probably so. Mann alleges that the overcharge was $387,000; that is an infinitessimal drop in the bucket for even a small public school system to waste.

Ruston Elementary’s financial audit indicates a “central office overhead” figure of $1,410 per student. At 447 students, that comes to $630,000. The audit also states that the school’s “Other support” figure, which is money not spent on teachers, school buses or school administration, is $1,902 per student. That comes to over $850,000.

And the school administration figure of $475 per student at 447 students comes to $212,325. That’s not central office overhead; that’s administration just for the school. Between school administration at Ruston Elementary, “other support” at the school and central office overhead for the Lincoln Parish School Board allocated to Ruston Elementary, they’re spending $3,787 per student per year. At 447 students, that’s $1.69 million per year.

Do you really think there isn’t $387,000 in that $1.69 million in overhead that couldn’t be saved or spent better somewhere else?

This for a school which can’t get anywhere close to half its students at grade level.

Does Bob Mann give a crap about that? Probably not. After all, the numbers at the elementary school in the East Baton Rouge Public School system closest to his house are a lot worse.

Bob Mann, according to WhitePages.com, lives on Ursuline Drive in Baton Rouge, a nice, tree-covered street in the University Hills area of the city just south of LSU. And just south of College Town off Highland Road is Highland Elementary School, an expensive hellhole run by one of the worst public school systems in the state.

At Highland Elementary, which was rated a “D” in the most recent school report card with just 52 percent of its students at grade level in English and 72 percent in Math, the financials are eye-popping. Highland Elementary spends $543 per student on school administration and $2,445 on “other support,” plus $1,788 on central office overhead per student. That’s a grand total of $4,776 per student per year on things which don’t have anything to do with instruction, out of a total of $13,340 per student per year.

$13,340 would cover elementary tuition at every private school in Baton Rouge that we were able to find numbers for. It’s possible there might be one or two in the city more expensive than that, but we doubt it.

For the money, here’s what you get. A Google Plus review of Highland Elementary

Valene Owens reviewed a month ago

Quality Poor to fair
this school does not care about the students!!!! some of the staff memebers are very sweet but the principal doesn’t protect the kids from bullying are anything like that.. my kids has had the worst school year ever.. if i was you i woud keep looking because this is not a good school

Highland Elementary has 379 students. That means $1.81 million gets spent there on stuff which has nothing to do with instruction. Anybody who thinks there isn’t $378,000 in wasted money out of that $1.81 million is crazy.

Should this post be considered a defense of New Living Word School? Not really; New Living Word obviously isn’t on track to set the educational world on fire, and that’s why the school got dropped from the voucher program. We call that accountability; it’s the market, in the person of John White, destroying that which needs to be destroyed. Ruston Elementary has been a failing school as long as anyone can remember, and nobody seems interested in castigating them the way Bob Mann and the rest of the state’s lefty pundits have trashed New Living Word.

But when taxpayers are spending $9,200 per student per year on abject failure at Ruston Elementary School and $13,340 per student per year on mediocrity and parent dissatisfaction at Highland Elementary School, why is it such a scandal to give a shot to parents to try a $6,300 voucher at a startup like New Living Word? After all, it’s not the state forcing kids into that school, it’s parents desperate to escape an atrocious waste of our money and their time at failed government schools. Is New Living Word worse than Ruston Elementary? Maybe so – but if kids don’t learn  anything either way, what does Bob Mann care that 100 or so parents might want to try out a different option that costs the taxpayers a lot less?

Unless what Bob Mann cares about is that adults who work in the government educational establishment get more public funding, that is.

And since never once in this week’s Sunday screed does he even discuss the actual kids involved, it’s pretty obvious the educrats making a living from the public dime are exactly what Bob Mann cares about. It would be nice if he just said so and desisted pretending that he gives a damn about the kids.



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