Let’s Talk About The Heated Exchange Between Joe Bouie And Conrad Appel Yesterday

You might have seen the much-talked about video of the fracas yesterday in the Louisiana Senate Education Committee, in which amid a hearing on a bill regarding charter schools Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) got into a rather chippy dust-up with Rep. Joe Bouie (D-New Orleans) over the effect of the state’s 2012 education reform package on school performance in Orleans Parish.

We can offer some context to this argument that our readers won’t likely see anywhere else.

First, here’s the video…

The bill in question, SB 292 by Sen. Regina Barrow, is more or less a frontal assault on charter schools. It would require the Legislative Auditor to perform an audit on more or less every charter seeking approval or renewal, which would bury the entire charter school enterprise under a mountain of red tape. The bill went nowhere in the committee and ended up in the dustbin at Barrow’s own request after the committee had chewed it to shreds.

And why would Barrow, and Bouie, who showed up at the table to push the bill, want to do this?

Because they don’t like charter schools.

Never mind that charters have generated improvement in test scores where they’ve been employed – not uniformly, but particularly in New Orleans, where most of the public schools have become charters, the results indicate a positive direction. That’s not what really matters to Barrow and Bouie.

What really matters is the local political machine doesn’t control those charter schools. And in Bouie’s case that’s REALLY what matters. He’s the godfather of the New Orleans educrat mafia, and that’s his primary billet as a state legislator. Bouie’s top priority, or one of them, is to reclaim as many Orleans Parish schools for the Orleans School Board as he can. He’s been at this for three years now, and it’s no longer a surprise. In fact, back in 2016 when Bouie first started with his verbiage calling the carter schools a “state-sponsored experiment” – the same verbiage he was using yesterday – he was also making accusations that the charter schools were abusing black kids in New Orleans. In other words, he’s a one-trick pony, or perhaps better put he’s a broken record.

Bouie used to be the chancellor at Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO), which is well-known as just about the worst higher education institution in America. He’s somebody you look at as an example of who NOT to listen to when it comes to educational best practices. So naturally he’s at the legislature bringing bills attacking people who do things differently.

That’s the context of this fight, and it’s the context which shows just how awful all of this is and how justified Appel was in going ballistic about it. Here was Bouie accusing the education reformers of abusing black kids in New Orleans, quoting this study of 16-24 year olds who aren’t working and alleging that this is somehow the fault of the charter schools in the city as though the traditional public schools they replaced weren’t the worst school system in America for decades prior to Hurricane Katrina, and Appel – who spent several years as chairman of the Senate Education Committee and fought tirelessly to do something about that awful school system and others like it in Louisiana – couldn’t stand it anymore.

Who can blame him? Appel isn’t stupid. Appel knows exactly who Joe Bouie is and what he wants. And Appel wasn’t going to sit there and be called a racist for trying to do something to make public education in New Orleans something other than a disaster.

And by the way, Appel is spot on about how those young people in New Orleans don’t have jobs because New Orleans doesn’t produce any. Last month the Labor Department put out its numbers on job growth in the nation’s metropolitan areas, and of 64 markets with populations over 500,000 people the New Orleans area came in 62nd, with a paltry 0.1 percent job growth. Only Norfolk/Virginia Beach and Rochester were worse. And Orleans Parish is the worst-performing parish in the New Orleans metro area. So Appel has the numbers to back up his claim, unlike Bouie.

But Bouie flopped the race card because it’s more or less all he knows, and because he also can’t just come out and say he wants his pals who got tossed out of the kitchen when education reform and school choice became the recipe in New Orleans to get their hands back on the pots and pans. If he says that, he’ll be laughed out of the restaurant. So he has to come up with something else – and since he’s been trained to call all the white people racists, that’s what you have. Often it’s all you need if you’re Bouie; white people are supposed to cower and shut up when you call them racists or even insinuate it for fear the charge would stick. Appel, who’s term limited after next year and isn’t really making noises about running for anything else, didn’t feel the need to cooperate.

It’s infuriating, and it’s especially infuriating given that the people who are both the victims of the bad old Orleans public schools and the potential beneficiaries of the charter schools that have taken their place, are mostly black. Appel sees himself and the other education reformers as trying to fight for those kids, regardless of color, and nobody can blame him when Bouie comes along and likens him to Jim Crow because in fighting for those kids the reformers are displacing a mostly-black New Orleans educational establishment which completely failed.

We could probably find a link to back up this anecdote if we had the time, but if memory serves there was a truly amazing story in the Times-Picayune a few days before Katrina hit New Orleans about the experiences of Alvarez & Marsal, the forensic accounting firm brought in to audit and clean up the books of the Orleans School District. And the accountant in charge of that project was quoted, if we recall the story accurately, as saying essentially that he estimated there was about 20 percent waste and fraud in the district’s payroll accounts, and he thought that using diligence and hard work and good forensic accounting he could trim that number to 10 percent. But to get rid of it altogether, he figured the only real option would be to stop sending out paychecks and make the payees show up at the office to account for the actual work they were doing in order to collect. And that was something he knew wouldn’t fly.

That’s the school district Joe Bouie, whose bookkeeping at SUNO got him fired as the chancellor after the legislative auditor’s office was through with him, would bring back to New Orleans. If anybody deserved to get that tongue-lashing yesterday, he’s the guy.

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