The state Department of Education is using a rather puzzling excuse as to why the public can’t see the communications and other documents surrounding the selection process for voucher schools participating in the new statewide voucher program.

And The Monroe News-Star isn’t taking no for an answer.

According to a report from the Gannett-owned Monroe daily, the paper has directed its lawyer to take action against the department for its blatant lack of transparency and abuse of public records laws:
The News-Star has directed its attorney to take legal action to force the state Department of Education to comply with a public records request submitted by the paper on June 4.

The News-Star’s request for Department of Education employee emails about the process of approving schools to participate in the state’s scholarship program was ignored by the department until July.

The News-Star filed multiple public records requests. The state department did not respond to The New-Star’s requests within the legal deadline, although it did respond to other requests submitted at the same time outside the legal deadline. When the newspaper contacted the department requesting comment for a news story on its failure to comply with public records law, the department complied with all requests except the one asking for information about the voucher approval process.

When asked about the outstanding request while visiting a Madison Parish School Board meeting on July 2, Superintendent of Education John White said the request would be fulfilled when the approval process was complete.

After an editorial on July 10 blasted the DOE for its lack of transparency and failure to respond to public records requests, White wrote a letter to News-Star executive editor Kathy Spurlock claiming the department’s voucher program was covered by the governor’s exemption for “deliberative process.”
It’s the same reason White gave the Associated Press when it, too, asked for the same records.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time DOE has chosen to ignore state public record laws. The Independent has experienced numerous records battles with the state agency, most of which begin by the department willfully ignoring records requests until legal action is threatened.

Kudos to The News-Star for not backing down. If vouchers are truly about parental choice, then the governor’s education secretary should have nothing to hide regarding private schools and how they were selected to receive millions of dollars in public money that would otherwise be spent on the state’s already struggling public schools.

Read more on The Independent’s own records battles with DOE here and here.

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