Company held previous links with Mose Jefferson
A firm that played a key role in a 2009 bribery trial of the brother of a former Louisiana congressman will move to the second round of scrutiny in its bid to offer online classes to public school students, state Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday.
But White emphasized that JRL Enterprises Inc. and 71 others face thorough reviews before they can win final approval.
“It is in the review and background check where the issues of past organizational history are put to the test,” he told reporters during a conference call.
Another 22 applications were rejected.
JRL is one of dozens of online firms, colleges, public school districts and others that hope to offer students courses for college and careers, apprenticeships, advanced placement and traditional courses.
The push stems from a state law approved earlier this year and is supposed to provide students with more options outside of traditional classrooms.
JRL, while never accused of wrongdoing, played a prominent part in the 2009 bribery trial of the late Mose Jefferson, brother of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson.
Mose Jefferson was convicted of bribery and obstruction of justice after being accused of paying $140,000 in kickbacks to a former Orleans Parish School Board president for her support in awarding school contracts to a computer-based teaching system he sold.
Authorities said Jefferson was the source of money for help winning School Board approval of contracts for JRL’s “I CAN Learn” math program.
News accounts said JRL Enterprises paid a firm run by Mose Jefferson $913,000 in consulting fees.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten was quoted in 2008 as saying that, in all, Mose Jefferson helped JRL secure about $14 million in contracts.
Vincent Melerine, vice president of customer support for the firm, said last month that John R. Lee, president and founder of the firm, testified for the prosecution three times in the Jefferson case.
In an email on Wednesday, Melerine said the “I CAN Learn” program is the only one on the state list that has been reviewed by the U. S. Department of Education “with scientific proof of efficacy.”
Penny Dastugue, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said in September that she was concerned about JRL’s initial application.
Dastugue, who lives in Mandeville, said she questioned whether the firm’s application would move past the initial round of state reviews.
She said in an email on Wednesday that the first round of application checks focused on technical issues and that “with each round we will see fewer applicants move on.”
White said last month that, based on what officials knew about the company, they were approaching the application “with some significant skepticism.”
White said Wednesday that JRL’s application “had merit” but he stressed that the firm, like others that made the initial cut, face multiple levels of checks by state education officials, a third-party panel and BESE in December.
He said the initial application does not include questions involving any relationships with “wrongdoing in the past.
“We are saving that for the background check and the interview,” White said.
White said 22 applications were rejected for a wide range of reasons, including incomplete entries, student transportation issues and the ability to serve students with special needs.