A summary of Louisiana political news you might have missed

Is the Louisiana Department of Education just another political operation?

Emails obtained by journalist and blogger Tom Aswell at Louisiana Voice suggest that Gov. Bobby Jindal and state Education chief John White have turned the Department of Education into a partisan political operation.

In an earlier blog post, Aswell explains how he had to threaten White with a lawsuit to get the records he had formally requested weeks earlier under the state’s Open Records Law.

Those emails detail a reckless and dismissive attitude toward Louisiana news media. The emails, Aswell writes, also suggest that White and his aides have “a cozy relationship” with “Rupert Murdoch and his company, News Corp., which apparently will be provided personal information on Louisiana public school students for use by a company affiliated with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”

And there’s also this:

A paragraph that could attract considerable attention among the media was one that said, “We’re going to send the TimesPic (New Orleans Times-Picayune) reporter to a Monday/Tuesday training in NOLA (New Orleans, LA).”

The reporter was not identified nor was there any explanation on what “training” would be provided—or if the reporter was simply being sent to cover in-house DOE training. If the latter was the case, it would nevertheless seem unusual for a state agency to assign or “send” an otherwise independent news reporter to cover an event held under its auspices.

The Louisiana Department of Education doesn’t seem to respect the state’s Open Records Law

In a related story, The Lens of New Orleans reports that it requested, two months ago, DOE records related to allegations of standardized test cheating in new New Orleans charter schools.

The Lens is seeking the information to determine how widespread standardized test cheating is at Louisiana schools and to learn how they respond to it. Standardized test scores are a key factor in determining the all-important School Performance Score; schools that score low can have their charters revoked.

In the last year alone, officials at two New Orleans charter schools have denied or ignored requests from The Lens for documentation of cheating investigations. Lafayette Academy, whose test scores have more than doubled in five years,acknowledged that it had investigated a cheating allegation last year. But school officials rebuffed The Lens’ efforts to learn more, saying any documents weren’t subject to public records law.

What, exactly, does The Lens suspect?

At the highly ranked Robert Moton Charter School, the Orleans Parish School Board concluded that staffers inappropriately showed fourth-graders the writing portion of the test before the exam had started. OPSB couldn’t substantiate other cheating allegations.

It’s understandable that Jindal and White wouldn’t want to release anything that might spoil the image of their charter school “miracle” in New Orleans. However, as Tom Aswell has shown, when threatened with a lawsuit, White tends to cough up the records.

Time for The Lens to lawyer-up?

Pressure builds on Jindal to expand Louisiana Medicaid program

Bobby Jindal’s position against accepting federal funds to expand Louisiana’s Medicaid program is increasingly making him a lonely man in GOP circles.

While many Republican governors, Jindal included, initially declared their refusal to take part in the federal Medicaid expansion, their principled opposition has been steadily crumbling. The latest governor to succumb to reality was Florida’s Rick Scott.

“While the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care,” Scott said at a news conference.

As reported yesterday in the D.C. newspaper The Hill:

Roughly 1 million Floridians will have access to healthcare coverage if the state legislature approves Scott’s plan. He said he would only support the expansion for three years, and would back out if the federal government backs away from its funding commitments.

“While the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care,” Scott said at a news conference.

Jindal continues to say that the expansion is bad policy and is too costly to Louisiana. But it’s becoming more difficult to maintain that position when conservative governors like Scott say things like this: “Expanding access to Medicaid services for three years is a compassionate, common-sense step forward . . . it is not a white flag of surrender to government-run healthcare.”

Rand Paul supporter takes a shot at Bobby Jindal

It seems that the sniping has begun in the race for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination — and Bobby Jindal is the target.

According to a story today in BuzzFeed, Kentucky Republican/Tea Party Sen. Rand Paul apparently sees Jindal as a threat.

The next presidential race is still years away, but two tracks of the campaign are already beginning to take shape. In the mainstream tier, Senator Marco Rubio is shadow-boxing with former Gov. Jeb Bush and other Establishment figures. But there is a second track for conservative hearts and minds, a la Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee.

And over on Earth 2, the real battle is Senator Rand Paul vs. Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Rare public glimmerings of this could be seen during Rand Paul’s State of the Union rebuttal, billed as the official Tea Party response, which didn’t go over well with a few political hands connected to Jindal.

But the story’s most interesting quote was this:

“I don’t see Bobby Jindal being much of a player on Rand or Marco’s side of the field,” said one senior Republican operative associated with Paul. “Quite frankly I see him as the 2016 version of Tim Pawlenty without the Minnesota nice.”

Has Jindal’s “Road Home” program been mismanaged?

Jindal gets lots of praise for how he handled the response and recovery after Hurricane Gustav in 2008. But not so much for how he’s managed the recovery operation he inherited from Gov. Kathleen Blanco after Katrina.

The New York Times has a story that focuses on the plight of one New Orleans’ family, struggling unsuccessfully to rebuild its life and home, with little or no help from Jindal’s recovery office bureaucrats.

Mr. [Errol] Joseph’s predicaments are not particularly rare. This is what rebuilding has looked like for many people, in neighborhoods across the city, trying to navigate a thicket of federal, state, local and private rules, which even state officials have acknowledged can be confusing. Guidelines come and go, directions contradict each other, adjustments are made to fix one problem only to create another, and even the most responsive officials are often bound by rules they cannot change.

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