A day before John White faced pointed questions from a Senate committee on the state’s approval process for private schools participating in the new voucher program, the state superintendent of education was working email overtime with two of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s key staffers to ‘muddy up a narrative’ about due diligence on voucher schools that was never proposed before the email exchange.
According to emails obtained through public records requests by The Monroe News-Star, White extensively discussed the expected scrutiny of the voucher program via an email exchange with Jindal’s spokesman Kyle Plotkin and his policy adviser Stafford Palmieri the Tuesday before White was scheduled to appear before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee:
The [committee] was to consider recommending White’s position be made permanent, but according to the emails, White appeared more concerned about damage control from the article about New Living Word School’s voucher award that had appeared five days before and the passage of the Minimum Foundation Program, which appeared tenuous at the time.White’s frustration with media coverage on the department’s voucher program was further illustrated two days after the notable email exchange, when White personally called an Independent staff writer and expressed his ire with this newspaper for a “snarky” voucher article that cited an incorrect number used in a blog post from education reform critic Diane Ravitch. Read The Ind’s blog that prompted White’s phone call here.
In the email exchange, White proposes creating a news story about the “due diligence” process for school voucher approvals to counter the impact of a News-Star article that revealed the state Department of Education had not performed site visits or extensive review of voucher applications.
“I’d like to create a news story about ‘the next phase’ of determining seats in schools before (Sen. Ed) Murray creates an additional story for us tomorrow,” White writes to Plotkin and Palmieri. “I’d also like to take some air out of the room on the floor tomorrow and to give (Rep.) Steve (Carter, House education committee chair) some cover.”
In a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday, prior to White’s May 30 appearance, Deputy Education Superintendent Erin Bendilly was the first to mention the state’s plans for “more due diligence” and “more steps” when questioned about the news story. However, she was dismissed by Murray and told to return the next day with specific answers to his questions. She accompanied White on May 30.
In the email, White discusses how he will create the news story by releasing a communication to schools regarding a timeline for student assignment.
“This will allow us to kill multiple birds with one stone,” White writes. “It would allow us to talk through the process with the media, muddying up a narrative they’re trying to keep black and white.”
In his testimony on May 30, White said the letter to the schools concerning the due diligence process “was planned for some time.”