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19.7.12

Education reform opponents hypocritically resist transparency

One of the red herring arguments used by opponents to recent education reform efforts in Louisiana has been the process has lacked openness and transparency. Perhaps this has proven a popular line of attack out for its familiarity, because some of these opponents themselves come up far short in this category.

A group leading the charge has been the Coalition for Progress in Louisiana, which now holds itself out as “Louisiana Progress.” The affiliate of the far-left Center for American Progress is according to its website and IRS letter of determination for 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit status domiciled in Baton Rouge with former Shreveport state Rep. Melissa Flournoy as its executive director. Within the past year she has had several opinion pieces that ran in the Shreveport Times about education and other issues, and recently the organization with The Times sponsored a forum on coming challenges in education, and also the same with a couple of other Gannett publications.

Also being involved in other political outreach efforts, one would think this costs some money. The group appears to be able to attract some donors: the web site for Razoo, a foundation to channel money to groups, in the middle of July gave a total of 108 donors and three separate “fundraisers” that indirectly had money donated to it. The Form 990 that some nonprofit groups are required annually to submit to the Internal Revenue Service from Razoo showed in 2011 it shunted $6,453 to the organization.

Yet, as the Lincoln Parish New Online reported, the only documentation concerning the organization comes from its initial efforts to get assigned 501(c)(3) status in 2006. Since then, it has filed no Forms 990 or the less-exacting version for groups that receive relatively low total donation and/or expenditure amounts, the 990-N, either of which violates IRS rules. Nor is there any indication that the group continues to qualify as a 501(c)(3) organization; typically, there has been a three-year provisional period which would have run out by now in its case lacking the filing of these forms. This means contributions to the group would be liable for income taxes to be paid by the group, nor may its donors write off the donation for their taxes.

Nor can the public have the legally required information about who its officers, directors, or key employees are, and what compensation they receive. However, Shreveport attorney Jerry Edwards on the Web holds himself out as a director, besides whatever role Flournoy officially has. (Apparently, a lawyer now in Philadelphia previously was the group’s executive director.)

Just as unforthcoming with legally required information have been efforts to recall Gov. Bobby Jindal and four legislators who with him played significant roles in getting reforms enacted, with supposedly separate organizations set up to accomplish each task. After this space ran a piece on how it appeared at least two of the efforts were in violation of state law for failing to file campaign finance reports, two weeks later, two weeks ago, reports were filed two months late for the recall efforts aimed at Jindal and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley.

However, they left other questions unanswered. The “Recall Bobby Jindal” website, for example, listed the web site as an in-kind contribution from teacher Phyllis Aswell, but that site contains information for all recall efforts. Yet the Kleckley one does not list an in-kind contribution from Aswell or from the Jindal effort (of the other three, two still have filed any report, while one for state Rep. Greg Cromer filed essentially a blank report accompanied by a letter of resignation from its chairman.). As another example, the Jindal group reports no expenditures, yet it has had events designed to gather signatories without reporting any in-kind contributions or payments made for facilities, speakers, and the like. Nor are reported sales of any of the cheesy recall merchandise.

The chairwoman of the Jindal group, teacher Angie Bonvillain, professed ignorance of the reporting law – even though the information was made publicly available in this space only days after the first report should have been due and not long after that the state Republican Party publicized the matter. But in regards to another law, she and her fellow travelers have been defiant. State law clearly specifies that the chairwoman is the custodian for these public records that must be open for examination upon request during the signature-gathering process, but Bonvillain has refused to follow it upon request by the Louisiana GOP, which is mulling a suit to compel the release.

Then there is the lingering controversy about efforts of teachers’ unions that may have coordinated opposition legislatively to the reforms and efforts apparently to hide that. The invaluable news and opinion website The Hayride made a public records request for e-mail messages sent between teachers’ union leaders and four legislators during the past legislative session set off tirades but, months later, apparently no compliance from the Legislature.

Thus, higher-profile education reform opponents have questionable records when it comes to following federal and state rules when it comes to transparency. Their inabilities, if not refusals, to meet legal requirements in this area call into question who they really represent and what their agendas really are.

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