[Editor's Note: This story has been updated following a phone call to The Independent from state Superintendent of Education John White. White expressed his ire with The Ind for citing education reform critic Diane Ravitch's blog, which White says includes inaccurate enrollment numbers for Eternity Christian Academy in Lake Charles. White says the Calcasieu Parish Christian school's current pre-voucher enrollment is 38 students, not 14. The Independent regrets the error.]

The north Louisiana minister making headlines for trying to lure 315 voucher students into a Ruston Christian school with no classrooms and no computers is also the former head coach of the UL Lafayette football team whose lawsuit against UL for wrongful termination and racial discrimination is still pending.

According to a report from The Monroe News Star, the Rev. Jerry Baldwin is minister of New Living Word Ministries and dually serves as principal of the New Living Word School. When the state Department of Education recently released its list of private schools that have been approved to participate in the state’s new voucher program for public students to attend private schools, New World School had been approved for 315 students — accepting 100 more voucher students than any other private school in the state.

But when The News-Star paid a visit to the “school,” the newspaper discovered that “New Living Word did not have facilities, computers or teachers to accommodate the students the state approved them to accept:”

Meanwhile, plans are under way for a tuition increase, a summer construction project, hiring faculty, purchasing computers and constructing desks. The school, the principal said, is moving forward “on faith.”

“If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to stop looking at the obstacles and look at the opportunities,” Baldwin said.
Speaking of opportunities, The News-Star reports that Baldwin’s “school” is slated to receive $2.7 million in public money if he meets maximum voucher enrollment.

Baldwin’s ties to Lafayette date back to 1999, when UL Lafayette hired him as the first black head football coach at any major university in Louisiana.

He was terminated in 2001 after winning only six of the 27 games he coached in his three years at UL. The former coach sued the school shortly after his firing, claiming it was racially motivated, “not because his teams lost 80 percent of their games.”

A jury in 2007 awarded Baldwin a $2 million judgment for his claims, but the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal overturned the jury’s judgment two years later, citing expert witness and jury issues. According to a December 2011 feature on Baldwin that appeared in The Concordia Sentinal, the lawsuit against UL is still pending and is scheduled to be reheard this summer.

Days after Baldwin’s voucher story went viral (it even made it to The Washington Post’s website), a Senate committee hammered state Superintendent of Education John White on the state’s process — or lack thereof — for approving voucher schools:
When White appeared in front of the committee on Wednesday, he said the approvals were preliminary and the department will now begin its “due diligence” process to ascertain if schools involved in the program could accommodate the number of students they said they would accept.

It is during that process that White said the department would learn about the school’s teacher capacity and certifications, tuition, fees and facilities and make necessary adjustments.

The review process, which White told the group had been in the works, was one that participating schools learned about on Wednesday.

Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, said he believes the “due diligence” step is a recently added one. “I would have to believe it came up after the (News-Star) article,” Kostelka said. “You don’t have enough time to do due diligence for this school year.”

An email sent to schools from the Department of Education following approval to participate contained no mention of approvals being “preliminary” or of any further review.
And according to education historian and reform critic Diane Ravitch, New Living World isn’t the only school in the state taking a rather profitable leap of faith on voucher students. Ravitch erroneously reports on her blog that Eternity Christian Academy in Lake Charles has a current enrollment of 14 students and has agreed to accept 135 voucher students in exchange for roughly $1 million in state funds. But White points out that Ravitch's blog is inaccurate, as the Lake Charles Christian school's current pre-voucher enrollment stands at 38 students. 

Read more Independent coverage on vouchers here, here and here.

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