Bloomberg Business Week:
Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) -- When talk-show host Oprah Winfrey handed a $1 million check last September to the principal of New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy, 200 students watched the broadcast from a church and celebrated with a brass band.
Lawrence Melrose, a ninth-grader with learning and emotional disabilities, sat next door in a school office. The staff was concerned his fighting and cursing could be an embarrassment, said Shelton Joseph, his great uncle. Because he has trouble communicating, Lawrence needed intensive counseling and speech therapy, which the school didn't provide, Joseph said. He was repeatedly suspended and told he couldn't take the school bus with other kids, according to his lawyer.
The education of 16-year-old Lawrence represents a common complaint about privately run, taxpayer-financed charter schools: They often exclude children with serious disabilities or deny them the help they need, violating federal laws.
“They left me,” Joseph recalled the boy telling him on the day of the Winfrey celebration. “They left me out.”
Along with the academy supported by Oprah's Angel Network -- which the entertainer used to raise money from the public --New Orleans charter schools accused of discrimination include those that are favored charities of Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Walton family and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Shunning special-education students helps school budgets since the average disabled child costs twice as much to serve as a nondisabled one, said Thomas Hehir, who oversaw federal special-education programs under President Bill Clinton.
“There's no incentive to take these kids,” Hehir, now a Harvard University professor, said in an interview. “If you can avoid educating them, there are other things you can do with the money. You can pay people more or reduce class size.”
Under federal law, all public schools -- including charters -- must educate students with disabilities. Charters and other public schools must come up with an individual plan for every child with a disability. They are expected, when appropriate, to place special-needs students in regular classrooms with extra support, such as an aide.
If a child needs more help, the school can set up a separate class or send the child elsewhere, including a private school. The school pays the bill, and parents have a legal right to challenge each decision. Students with disabilities also have special protection when they are disciplined if the behaviors are related to their condition.
Charter schools, which tend to be small and receive less tax money than traditional districts, can't afford to take on children who may cost tens of thousands of dollars to educate, said Andrew Coulson, director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit research group. The children need to stay in better-funded districts, he said.
“It's just not practical and feasible” for charter schools to educate severely disabled children, said Coulson, whose organization favors free markets and limited government. Parents “know that every school can't serve every child.”
Charters on average receive $9,460 per student in local, state and federal money, 19 percent less than traditional districts, in part because many don't get money for buildings under state laws, according to a 2010 Ball State University study.
About 1.8 million children -- or 4 percent of public school students -- attend charters, five times the number in 1999-2000, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington.
Charters last year received $14.8 billion in local, state and federal money, up from $4.5 billion in 2003, estimated Larry Maloney, president of Washington-based Aspire Consulting LLC, which analyzes public-education finances.
New Orleans, Los Angeles and Washington, three districts that rely on charter schools, face claims of systemic discrimination in special-education court cases, including allegations that charters aren't open to children with serious disabilities.
While federal data show that charters and traditional districts have similar percentages of kids in special education, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that charters in Louisiana, California, New York and Texas had fewer with more severe disabilities.
Only 1 percent of the students in Los Angeles charter schools have serious disabilities, such as autism, compared with 3.5 percent at district-operated schools, according to the system's court-appointed monitor. Twenty-nine out of 186 charters didn't have a single child with serious disabilities.
Charter enrollment practices may screen out children who are hard to educate, according to reports by monitors in Los Angeles and Washington. The Gates foundation disagrees. Parents are often leery of leaving established district programs, where they are well served, said Don Shalvey, who oversees the group's charter- school philanthropy of $475 million in the past decade.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans turned to charters as a way to rebuild schools and overhaul public education. Its charter schools now enroll more than 70 percent of students, a larger share than in any other U.S. district.
Last October, 10 families, including Lawrence's, filed a federal special-education discrimination suit against the state of Louisiana. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights group in Montgomery, Alabama, represents the families. Charter schools aren't named as defendants, and the allegations include complaints about services at conventional schools, as well.
A lanky teenager who dreams of joining the Army, Lawrence reads and does math at roughly the third-grade level. Along with attention deficit disorder, he has language-related disabilities that make his speech difficult to understand.
Rather than provide all the services he needed, New Orleans Charter Science and Math excluded him by suspending him repeatedly and keeping him from going to the Oprah celebration, according to the lawsuit.
Some other students also didn't attend the ceremony to protect children's safety, Benjamin Marcovitz, the school's founder and principal, said in a phone interview. Angela De Paul, an Oprah Winfrey spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Lawrence struggles because of failings of his previous schools, and the academy did everything it could to help him, including paying for a mentor, Marcovitz said.
“Lawrence is a pretty beloved member of our school community” and returned to school this year, Marcovitz said. After the lawsuit was filed and repeated meetings with the family, the school shifted its approach last December, providing the mentor, speech therapy and instituting a plan that rewarded him for good behavior, according to Eden Heilman, a Southern Poverty Law Center senior staff attorney.
Kelly Fischer, another plaintiff, toured New Orleans charter schools in March 2010 to find a spot in fourth grade for her son Noah, who is blind, autistic and eats from a tube.
Administrators from three charter schools told her they couldn't handle Noah, according to her notes.
“You do not want your son to come here,” Laura Todaro, a counselor at Samuel J. Green Charter School, told Fischer, according to her notes.
“When people within the educational field, professionals, tell me that he's too much for them, it's kind of like telling me there's no hope for him,” Fischer said.
The Samuel Green school, run by FirstLine Schools, received a $279,000 donation from the foundation of NFL quarterback Brees. Chris Stuart, Brees's agent, declined to comment.
Todaro, FirstLine's director of counseling services, said she remembers her conversation with Fischer differently. She told Fischer and another parent with her that the schools educated children with disabilities in regular classrooms -- a philosophy of “complete and total inclusion” -- and didn't have anything already in place to serve Noah, Todaro said.
“I'm sorry if she took away that he couldn't come here,” Todaro said in a telephone interview. “We always try to accommodate the needs of the kids.”
The family of another child in the lawsuit said he was shortchanged at KIPP schools -- a charter network that operates across the U.S. San Francisco-based KIPP is featured in “Waiting for Superman,” the documentary directed by Academy Award winner Davis Guggenheim that lauds charter schools. The Gates and Walton foundations support KIPP, which stands for Knowledge Is Power Program.
In the New Orleans lawsuit, the mother of a 16-year-old said he didn't get the help he needed from KIPP Believe College Prep. Because of his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the boy, identified in the suit only as L.W., reads at the second-grade level and had failing grades and scores on state standardized tests.
The school's special-education plan included no social work, counseling or psychological services, according to the complaint. At KIPP Renaissance High School last year, the boy received only 30 minutes of counseling a week, the suit said.
“We are deeply committed to serving all students,” including the 9 percent last year who had disabilities, Rhonda Kalifey-Aluise, executive director of KIPP New Orleans Schools, said in a statement.
--Editors: Jonathan Kaufman, Lisa Wolfson
by Laurie F. Moeller, D.D.S.
One of our members, Dr. Frank Martello, is a hero. On Friday, April 15, 2011, while attending a lecture at the New Orleans Dental Conference, he noticed a fellow attendee’s head had fallen back from his chair. As people began to clear space around the unconscious man, Dr. Martello quickly assessed that the victim had no pulse and was not breathing. He quickly began CPR, aided by Dr. Louis Malcmacher, the speaker of the presentation. As the man began to turn blue, Dr. Martello, trained in Advanced Cardiac Life Support, began to give chest compressions.
Someone called 911 and the EMS arrived with the Automatic External Defibrillator. The AED delivered two shocks before normal cardiac rhythm was established. Dr.
Martello stated that “he could have done CPR forever, but the victim wouldn’t have come around without the AED, and the support of the EMS, paramedics and cardiologist. Being prepared and running routine drills in basic CPR are essential to handling an emergency whether in the office or other surroundings.”
Minutes later, Dr. Martello gave a moving invocation at the Pierre Fauchard Academy luncheon stating that we should all appreciate the value of life, for tomorrow is promised to no one.
A grateful doctor is alive today and back at his dental practice, because of the expert response of Dr. Frank Martello.
This article appeared in the July 2011 NODA News.
New Orleans Times-Picayune:
By Jan Moller, Times Picayune
Twelve companies have applied to participate in the state's new "coordinated care networks" initiative, which will steer nearly 900,000 Medicaid recipients into private managed-care plans starting early next year.
The applications were due June 24 to the state Department of Health and Hospitals, which plans to spend a month evaluating the different proposals before announcing the winners by July 25. A maximum of six winners can be chosen in each of the three geographic regions where the program will be launched next year, starting with a planned rollout in the New Orleans area and the north shore.
"This competitive process will ensure that our evaluation teams can select those networks that have the best competencies to meaningfully impact our residents and transform our health system," Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein said.
The care networks are the centerpiece of Gov. Bobby Jindal's health care strategy, with supporters saying the private plans will produce better health outcomes by reducing unnecessary tests and hospitalizations through improved coordination between primary-care doctors, specialists, hospitals and other care providers.
Opponents of the new model say it will result in fewer state dollars going to pay for health care as the private companies divert money for marketing costs, overhead and profits.
Medicaid in Louisiana currently operates on a fee-for-service model, where the 1.2 million people who qualify for the program by their age, income or disability can go to any provider who will accept them. The providers then bill the state for any services and get reimbursed at rates set by the government.
In the new system, most Medicaid recipients will have a choice of several private plans that would oversee their care and pre-approve visits to specialists, hospital admissions and diagnostic tests.
Some of the plans will be paid a monthly fee for each enrollee, which will vary based on the enrollee's health, and be responsible for the cost of that person's care. Other plans will continue to be based on the fee-for-service model, except the networks would get paid an added monthly fee to provide better care coordination.
The Medicaid recipients who cost the state the most money, such as nursing-home residents or people with severe disabilities, will stay in the old, fee-for-service system.
A bill approved by the Legislature during the recently concluded session would require the health department to provide detailed information each year about how the plans are performing, including the number of people enrolled, how quickly claims are being paid and how many claims are being denied. Senate Bill 207, which awaits a signature or veto from the governor, also requires the program to sunset by the end of 2014 unless it's renewed by the Legislature.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan was just in New Orleans, praising to practically the heavens the charter school-dominated school system that was rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina swept through in 2005 and left it in shambles.
It wasn’t the first time he’s waxed poetic about the New Orleans schools; there was, for example, the unfortunate incident last year, when, confusing metaphor with reality, he said, “The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that ‘we have to do better.’ ” Of course he apologized a few days later.
The New Oreans Recovery School District -- where nearly 75 percent of the public schools are charter schools -- has become the focus of a lot of attention in school reform circles based on rising test scores, so it seems worthwhile looking at the success claims of the 38,000-student district.
According to the Lousiana Department of Education in a release last month,, the number of students attending failing schools in New Orleans has dropped from 68 percent in 2004-2005 to just below 18 percent in 2009-2010. The designation of schools is based on standardized test scores.
But a November 2010 report, written by Barbara Ferguson, board chair and attorney for Research on Reforms, a nonprofit foundation, that the district left out 30 percent of its schools in its 2009-10 success record. She wrote that during that year there were 71 schools in the district, 21 of which did not have baseline School Performance Scores.
Meanwhile, the population of New Orleans has changed. According to a report released in February by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, since 2000, five years before Katrina, “the metro area lost 22 percent of children under 18 compared to only 7 percent of all adults.” Another report says that the families slowest to return are low-income minority families, students who are more likely to score lower on standardized tests than white students.
And then there’s the problem of students with special needs who can’t find schools that will enroll them because there aren’t enough schools with special education programs.
In fact, last year the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Loyola University Law Clinic, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Southern Disability Law Center jointly filed a complaint with the state Department of Education charging that the department was violating the U.S. Individuals With Disabilities Education Act by systemically failing to guarantee that students with disabilities received equal access to educational services.
According to the Times-Picayune, Duncan, while in New Orleans last week, called it the most improved in the country and said it could serve as a model for other ailing systems. Let’s hope not.
UCP Annual Conference hosted by the Crescent City
150 participants from all over the United States and Canada and as far away as Sydney Australia converged on New Orleans for the annual meeting of the United Cerebral Palsy network from April 11 - 13. The three-day conference was kicked off by UCP’s national President and CEO Stephen Bennett and UCP of Greater New Orleans Executive Director Jo Bugg. At the Awards Dinner on Tuesday night, Karen DeSalvo, New Orleans Health Commissioner and senior adviser to Mayor Landrieu for health policy spoke and also welcomed attendees to New Orleans.
The conference entitled Life Without Limits: It’s All Local explored a range of topics including:
· Health Care and Education Reform
· Global Collaboration/Local Impact
· Research Advances and Program Development:
· Mobilizing the next generation
· Lobbying isn’t just for the lobbyist
· Social Enterprise and Mission Driven Business
Besides Executive Director Jo Bugg, UCPGNO staff member Faye Dufour and Board Member Kristen Cowand attended part of the conference.
This year's annual national UCP conference will be at the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans. Conference. The theme of the conference, Life Without Limits: It’s All Local draws inspiration from the recovery and restoration of this magnificent city and will provide tools to strengthen affiliates in their local communities regardless of budget size.
Starting in January 2011, the staff of UCP of Greater New Orleans, under the leadership of Executive Director Jo Bugg, embarked on a path to revise the strategic plan for the organization. On March 17 - 18, 2011 the board of UCP GNO met to engage in a strategic-level review of the strategic plan. Board and staff are energized at the progress they are making in envisioning the programs and areas in which UCP GNO will grow over the next 5 years.
UCP GNO accessed the services of UCP National's Mission Driven Consulting services. This is a new service area which leverages the strengths of the entire UCP network to assist affiliates in solving particular challenges or to grow to the next level.
Longtime local UCP Board member Steven Bain commented that "[t]he strategic planning sessions were great – it really feels like exactly what we need."