School Choice For Me, But Not For Thee BESE Candidate Bashes NOLA Schools, But Illegally Sends Her Child To One

To hear Ashonta Wyatt tell it, New Orleans public schools are nothing short of a disaster.

“This ship is crashing, it’s sinking,” Wyatt said in a recent interview with the New Orleans Tribune. “And if we don’t do anything about it, our children are the ones who will be paying the price for greed, for corruption, for malfeasance, for privatization.”

Wyatt is one of two candidates trying to unseat Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) District 2 member Kira Orange Jones in next month’s elections. While Jones is seeking another term on BESE to build upon the progress schools have made over the past 15 years, Wyatt is running on a platform that can most charitably be described as retrograde, in the sense that it would take our district back to its dysfunctional pre-Katrina days.

Ashonta Wyatt and Kira Orange Jones.

If elected, Wyatt has promised to repeal Act 91, the law which reunified the city’s public schools last year (never mind that only the legislature – not BESE – can rescind the law), restore the power of the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), and turn the city’s charters back into traditional public schools. She also wants to replace State Superintendent John White, the longest-serving state superintendent in the country, whom she nonetheless considers “unqualified.”

Wyatt insists that such drastic (or, more accurately, disastrous) moves are necessary because the education system in our city is so terrible. She dismisses research that has shown that the reforms we’ve undertaken in New Orleans have raised student performance, insinuating that the data has been manipulated by education officials. She asserts that the people who work hard everyday running the city’s schools are simply trying to “benefit their businesses” and has said, “our children are just collateral damage in this business that is charter reform.”

Ashonta Wyatt with Tia Mills, the president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, who has endorsed her along with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and United Teachers of New Orleans.

Not surprisingly, Wyatt’s platform and portrayal of New Orleans public schools are music to the teachers unions’ ears. In recent weeks, the Louisiana Association of Educators, Louisiana Federation of Teachers, and United Teachers of New Orleans have all endorsed her. The unions’ proxy organizations have followed suit as well. Step Up Louisiana, a local activist group launched by the Center for Popular Democracy – whose previous efforts to sabotage charter schools in Louisiana were exposed by this blog, as well as the New Orleans Advocate – threw its support behind Wyatt earlier this month. Wyatt has also allied herself with the so-called Erase The Board coalition, a group that wants to get rid of the city’s charters and uses social media to make ugly, slanderous attacks on Kira Orange Jones, OPSB officials, school leaders, and anyone else who happens to disagree with them.

In one particularly vicious attack on Facebook, Erase The Board mocked OPSB Superintendent Henderson Lewis for wearing a shirt commemorating his late father, who was a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School in New Orleans.

Given Wyatt’s distain for our city’s education system – a system in which, to borrow her words, students become “collateral damage”  – you may be surprised to learn that she sends her own child to a New Orleans public school even though she lives in Jefferson Parish, a fact that was revealed by Kira Orange Jones during a BESE candidate forum at Audubon Charter School last week.

“Again, you are choosing to send your child to a New Orleans school, which takes a seat from a New Orleans child,” Jones told Wyatt during the candidate forum. “If you don’t want to send your child to a New Orleans school where you don’t like the testing, or you don’t like the board, or you don’t like the way schools are moving here, then send your child to a school in Harvey, legally.”

Sources confirm Wyatt sends her child to Alice Harte Elementary, a high-performing, open-enrollment K-8 charter school in Algiers operated by the InspireNOLA network, which is one of the most sought-after school options in the city. As is the case elsewhere, students enrolling in New Orleans public schools (with the exception of BESE-authorized “Type 2” charters like the New Orleans Military And Maritime Academy) must be a resident of Orleans Parish. However, as Wyatt stated in her public comments at an Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) meeting in February 2019, she in fact lives in Harvey. As a result, her child should be enrolled in the Jefferson Parish Schools system.

Moreover, Wyatt previously indicated that she lived in Harvey (at the same address she shared at the OPSB meeting in February) in a 2015 state filing for a non-profit organization she started, which suggests that Wyatt’s deception has been going on for years.

On the one hand, one might have sympathy for Wyatt, or even forgive this transgression, since she’s a parent who is simply trying to provide her child with the best education that she can. But that’s hard to square with the fact that Wyatt decries our charter-based model as “privatization” and is running for BESE on a platform that would take away good schools like Harte from families who actually live in this city. Regardless of whether Wyatt’s actions are criminal, it’s hard to view them as anything other than hypocritical.

When citizens in BESE District 2 head to the polls on October 12th, they will have a choice between a candidate who wants to strengthen and build upon what our school system has accomplished over the past decade, or candidates who seek to drag our schools backward. Let’s hope they choose the former rather than the latter.

Those of us who support the city’s reforms can help ensure that happens by showing up on Election Day.

Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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