Common Cause Louisiana Recommendations for Amendments to Charter School and Scholarship Bills - SB 597 AND HB 976

March 15, 2012

1) Provide that the conflict of interest and other provisions of the Louisiana Codeof Governmental Ethics, currently.La.R.S.42:1101-1170, apply to third party consultants, charter school authorizers,charter schools and course providers, and the employees of these,when they provide services authorized by this Title.

    2) Provide that the third parties who are to conduct the independent evaluations of course provider proposals [new R.S.17:4002.4, p.26 of HB and p.27 of SB], charter school authorizers proposals [new R.S. 17:3981.1A(3), p.8 of HB and p. 8 of SB], charter school applications to local boards[R.S. 17:3982A(l)(a)(I), p.12 of HB and p.12 of SB], charter school applications to charter school authorizers [new R.S. 17:3981.1F, p.9 of HB and p. 10 of SB] shall be ineach instance a permanent panel of three persons selected by the board from names submitted by the presidents of Tulane University, Xavier University and Centenary College. These three persons, by the vote of any two of them, shall name additional persons to additional panels as workloads may require. The board shall by rule adopt procedures to implement the appropriate reviews, the selection and payment of third parties, the filling of vacancies, and the selection of substitute third parties in cases of recusal due to conflict of interest or other reasons.

    3) Provide that the criteria for approving charter school applications and continuing charter school review include a determination that individual expenses, such as executive compensation and subcontracts, are not unreasonably high.


    Common Cause/Louisiana does not appear here to either oppose or to support these bills. Its purpose is to offer suggestions for their improvement. The reason for this posture is that Common Cause is normally involved only in legislative and democratic processes and not in the substance of other laws. Two of Common Cause's hallmark interests are integrity and accountability.

    The highlights of the reasons for its recommendations are as follows: 

    Recommendation No. 1. Example: A charter school headmaster makes the decision and acts to supplement his salary in a big way, to have the school rent a building in which he has an ownership interest, to hire his wife as his assistant, or to contract with a food supply company owned by his son. 

    All of these acts involve blatant conflicts of interest, and the decision should be made by someone else, such as the headmaster's board. It is the public's money which is at risk, and the ethics code should be made applicable to protect the integrity of the charter and course provider system.

    Recommendation No. 2. The charter, scholarship and course provider features of these bills should be like Caesar's wife - - above all reproach. Example: Rapture, a large, politically active, out-of-state, for-profit corporation believes there is much money to be made in Louisiana by offering its assembly line on-line and in-clinic courses. The Education Department conducts an independent evaluation of [Rapture's] proposal by a third party selected by the Department as provided in the bills [new R.S. 17:4002.4A(1), p. 26 of HB and p. 27 of SB]. No matter whether Rapture's proposal is a good one, it is nonetheless tainted. Solution: If a genuinely independent evaluation is wanted, let us so provide. One way is Common Cause's recommendation No. 2 for an initial panel selected by the board from a list of nominees named by presidents of three private colleges and universities.

    Even the limitation of charter school authorizers and charter schools to non-profit corporations and public agencies does not negate the need for a truly independent application review process. We all know that non-profits can easily provide favors by way of larger salaries or cozy subcontracts if they wish to do so.

    Recommendation No. 3. To the extent public money is used, government has an obligation to ensure it is used wisely. Thus, Common Cause proposes that charter school applications and charter school continuing review include a determination that such expenses as executive compensation and subcontracts are not unreasonably high.

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