Education Montana Politics

Ethically-Challenged TEA Party Hypocrite Running for Legislature

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Jhwygirl has the news that Ken Miller will be announcing the selection of conservative320px-Billie_Orr education opponent activist and Republican House candidate Billie Orr as his running mate in his futile bid for the governor’s chair.   (Correction below)

Republican legislative candidate Billie Orr is certainly going to have some explaining to do when it comes to her views on education.

I can’t wait to hear Ms. Orr come out against the “education establishment,” given her record as someone who took millions of dollars from the federal government, enriching herself and misappropriating taxpayer dollars during the education reform racket that President Bush’s misguided No Child Left Behind legislation ushered in.

A lot of details below the fold.

Just how did Ms. Orr and her organization spend these federal dollars?Under the direction of Ms. Orr and another Arizona politician, the Education Leaders Council spent millions of tax dollars on alcohol, meals, and entertainment, as Education Week noted on February 15, 2006:

Between July 1, 2002, and Dec. 31, 2004, the ELC received more than $23 million in grants from the Education Department’s Fund for the Improvement of Education for the project. Congress appropriated an additional $9.6 million for the project in fiscal 2005, prompting critics to question the group’s spending habits and effectiveness. (See Education Week, Jan. 12, 2005.)
More than 28 percent of the grant costs reviewed in the audit, which covered calendar year 2004, were either questioned or unsupported, the report says. Among the $232,000 in questioned costs were expenditures for meals, entertainment, and travel that did not appear to be related to Following the Leaders. Also included were expenses that federal grants cannot be used for, such as alcoholic beverages, fund raising, and advertising. The organization spent $4,913 on ads that ran in Education Week, the audit says.
The report notes that “officials and employees responsible for incurring most of the questioned and unsupported costs were no longer employed by ELC” when the audit took place.

A perusal of the organization’s audit demonstrates how money was being spent, on expensive restaurants and luxury hotels. And let’s not forget flying John Boehner around the country.

In fact, it got so bad by 2005, that the federal government restricted money to the organization, as Education Week noted on September 28, 2005:

The U.S. Department of Education has placed restrictions on money approved by Congress for the nonprofit Education Leaders Council, which has been criticized by some of its own former board members for its financial practices. (See Education Week, Sept. 23, 2004.)
“They have been designated as a high-risk grantee, and so the drawing down of their funds has special conditions on it,” Chad Colby, an Education Department spokesman, said last week. “They have to show receipts and get approval before they receive any [more] money.”

Ms. Orr also enriched herself to the tune of $200,000 a year, as the Washington Times noted in 2004:

The group’s auditors questioned the propriety of Lisa Graham Keegan, working under a consultant contract as ELC’s $235,000-a-year chief executive officer, sitting on the corporation’s board and helping set policy.

The auditors, Draper & McGinley of Frederick, said the arrangement conflicted with federal regulations.

Billie Orr, who just resigned as ELC’s $200,000-a-year president, also had worked under a similar automatically renewable contract arrangement.

Mrs. Keegan said she arranged the consultant contracts for herself and Ms. Orr “for tax purposes” through their respective consulting firms in Arizona when she resigned as Arizona’s state superintendent of public instruction.

Education Week also noted on January 24, 2004 that Ms. Orr and Ms. Keegan took far more money than the work they were doing warranted.

But a memo of concerns attributed to the food-industry magnate by the ELC says the May audit raises a number of “red flag” issues. Among them were questions about the employment terms of Ms. Keegan and her second in command at the ELC, then-president Billie Orr. Ms. Orr, who had health problems, retired last month.
Both Ms. Keegan and Ms. Orr, also a former deputy of Ms. Keegan’s at the Arizona education department, served in their positions at the ELC as independent contractors. Ms. Keegan, who earned $85,000 a year as state chief, is paid $235,000 a year, plus travel expenses. She receives no other benefits.
Mr. Hume’s memo seemed to question their salaries and their ability to fully oversee the council, given that both women maintained their permanent residences in Arizona and kept apartments near the ELC’s headquarters in Washington.

And finally, as Education Week noted on January 12, 2005, even Republicans in Congress didn’t support the program, because it didn’t have any evidence of success:

Critics of the program, including several nationally known education leaders, claim that the ELC has not been able to account for all of the federal money spent on the program. They’re also concerned that Following the Leaders primarily consists of technology-based products and services operated by private companies that have provided financial support for the council.
To date, the program has not produced any evaluations to show whether it’s effective in the 600 schools in 11 states that have signed up to use it.
Former U.S. Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who served on the ELC’S governing board and spent 26 years in the House of Representatives and six years as chairman of the education committee, called federal lawmakers’ decision to support the new round of funding “a terrible mistake.”

When Republicans talk about privatization of our schools and “school choice,” this is what they mean: individuals enriching themselves at the expense of our children. In this case, that sour dish is being served with a  heaping side of hypocrisy.

Correction: My apologies for the getting the initial post incorrect. In addition to the post mentioned at the top of the piece, another (so I thought) reliable source gave me the same information. Deliberate misinformation or a mistake, the error is on me.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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