Monday, March 31, 2014

Can You Say Conflict of Interest?

I almost fell out of my chair in laughter when I read a story in today's Baton Rouge Business Report.  Here's a link to the little write-up that brought so much jocularity to my life earlier today.  

Go ahead and read the story first. If you don't, the rest will not make sense.

Here is some information that the Baton Rouge Business Report neglected to include in the article regarding some of the organizations that signed the statement referenced in the article:

It is a well-known fact that Bill Gates, via The Gates Foundation, has financed every aspect of Common Core to the tune of $2.3 billion

Stand for Children has received
$10,898,378 from The Gates Foundation as of 2013 to advocate for the Common Core State Standards. 

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) has a few interesting connections to the US Chamber of Commerce, the world's largest business federation.  For the record, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its Institute for Competitive Workforce have received $6,053,918 from the Gates Foundation to advocate for the Common Core State Standards. 

In addition to a partnership between LABI and the US Chamber announced in January of this year, an overlooked, but very important, connection between the LABI and the US Chamber of Commerce is Maura Donahue.

Maura Donahue is a former past chair of the Board of Directors and of the Executive Committee of the U.S. Chamber and she currently serves on the Senior Council, the Executive Committee, and is chair of the Nominating Committee.

Maura Donahue also sits on the boards of LABI (Executive Committee, Vice President, Board of Directors), and Greater New Orleans Inc., two organizations that "signed off" on the statement issued today.

One other detail that I need to mention: Maura Donahue is the wife of Louisiana Senator Jack Donahue, who sits on the Louisiana Senate Education Committee.

I don't see a problem here at all, do you?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Crisis of Confidence

Text of an email sent to the Louisiana Senate Education Committee members.

In last week’s Senate Education Committee meeting, Senator Walsworth made reference to the fact that there is a “trust” issue between parents and legislators, especially when debating student data privacy bills.

Senator Walsworth is correct: there is a trust issue. A major trust issue.  Here’s why:

  1. On December 7, 2010, Discovery Education (a subsidiary of Discovery Communications) announced: “the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education officially adopted the Discovery Education Science Elementary Techbook for Louisiana and the Discovery Education Science Middle School Techbook for Louisiana.
  2. On November 30, 2010, just a few days prior to Discovery's announcement, Senator Appel purchased stock in Discovery Communications. (2010 Financial Disclosure Statement of Conrad Appel)  Discovery Education material is Common Core-aligned.
  3. Senator Appel purchased stock in Microsoft on June 4, 2012. (2012 Financial Disclosure Statement of Conrad Appel)
    1. On May 25, 2012, the Louisiana legislature approved the implementation of Common Core in Louisiana (HB 707, ACT 275);
    2. The 2012 Legislative Session adjourned June 4, 2012.

Some have suggested that Senator Appel’s purchase of Discovery Communications stock prior to the announcement of the adoption of textbooks and other digital materials by Discovery is tantamount to insider trading. I don’t know that I would go that far but one thing is for sure, his timing is suspicious and has raised more than a few eyebrows.

So how does Senator Appel’s June 4, 2012 purchase of Microsoft stock come into play?  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent more than $200 million to pay for every aspect of the Common Core: the writing, the reviews, the evaluation, the implementation, the promotion and advocacy by numerous groups across the nation.

I have a hard time believing that Bill Gates has given so much money out of the goodness of his heart and expects nothing in return. Bill Gates is a businessman, ergo he is all about the profit. Common Core and all that it entails (PARCC assessment testing, building out Louisiana’s data system to federal specifications) is all about technology: digital textbooks, digital assessments, digital monitoring of teachers for evaluation purposes, building databases to effectively measure student achievement and teacher performance, just to name a few.  That’s an awful lot of hardware and software that needs to be purchased, updated and upgraded regularly. Remember, Common Core is being implemented nationwide.

Microsoft, directly and through existing and newly created partnerships (See
February 20, 2014 PRNewsire announcement from Pearson and Common Core Partnership Reveals Growing Impact on Curriculahas the potential to make untold millions from the educational overhaul The Gates Foundation is funding in the United States.

With full implementation of Common Core, Senator Appel stands to monetarily benefit from his purchase of Microsoft stock; Senator Appel stands to monetarily benefit from his purchase of Discovery Communications stock.

R.S. 42:1101, Section B states:

It is essential to the proper operation of democratic government that elected officials and public employees be independent and impartial; that governmental decisions and policy be made in the proper channel of the governmental structure; that public office and employment not be used for private gain other than the remuneration provided by law; and that there be public confidence in the integrity of governmentThe attainment of one or more of these ends is impaired when a conflict exists between the private interests of an elected official or a public employee and his duties as such.  The public interest, therefore, requires that the law protect against such conflicts of interest and that it establish appropriate ethical standards with respect to the conduct of elected officials and public employees without creating unnecessary barriers to public service.  It is the purpose of this Chapter to implement these policies and objectives.

Again, I am not asserting that Senator Appel broke any laws; I am not asserting that Senator Appel violated the state Code of Ethics as there is no absolute proof that Senator Appel knowingly used his public office for private gain. However, his actions are suspect, his timing is suspect and, as a result, he has created a crisis of confidence at a time when parents are fighting for the rights and privacy of their children.

From this point forward, there will always be a cloud of suspicion surrounding any education bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Senator Appel.  His ties to Common Core-aligned companies, especially those that are so closely tied to data collection, make it impossible to trust Senator Appel’s motives for any legislation regarding Common Core. To that end, I respectfully request that any and all education bills and data privacy bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Senator Appel yet to be heard by the Senate Education Committee be involuntarily withdrawn immediately.