JRL online class bid denied

State officials Wednesday rejected a bid to offer online classes to public school students by a firm linked to the 2009 bribery trial of the brother of former U.S. Congressman William Jefferson.

However, the state approved requests by 45 other applicants.

In addition, the state Department of Education recommended the approval of 11 new charter schools, including one in Baton Rouge that would serve students with dyslexia and is backed by Dr. Laura Cassidy, the wife of U.S. Rep. William Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.

All of the applications are scheduled for final action on Wednesday by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The program will allow private businesses, colleges, public school districts and others to offer students courses for colleges and careers, apprenticeships and advanced placement classes as well as traditional classes.

The aim of the law, which was enacted earlier this year, is to give public school students new options for college or career planning.

The firm that sparked attention, JRL Enterprises Inc., was one of 72 that made the first round of cuts in October for a new state program.

Officials of JRL, which wanted to offer students an online algebra class, played a prominent role in the bribery trial of the late Mose Jefferson, brother of the former congressman. JRL was never accused of wrongdoing.

However, 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.

Why the company’s application was rejected was unclear.

A news release issued by the department listed the 45 applicants that won agency approval without listing those that did not.

JRL’s application sparked worries among leaders of BESE, including Jim Garvey, of Metairie.

“I certainly did have some concerns,” Garvey said Wednesday. “They would have had to jump over a high hurdle to get me comfortable.”

Vincent Melerine, vice president of customer support for JRL, said in an email response to a question that he is unaware of any other firm that offers a proven algebra program recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Melerine said earlier that John R. Lee, president and founder of the firm, testified for the prosecution three times in the Jefferson case.

Applicants that won approval include a handful of school districts, the University of New Orleans and a variety of online companies.

The list includes 20 virtual courses, 13 face-to-face classes and 12 that combine both, according to the department.

The department will publish a catalog of classes in January. Enrollment begins in March for the 2013-14 school year.

The classes will generally be financed with public dollars.

Providers are supposed to get half of the payment when students enroll and the other half when they successfully complete the program on time.

Meanwhile, the 11 charter schools recommended for BESE approval would bring the state’s total to 115.

Charter schools are public schools run by nongovernmental boards.

They are supposed to offer innovative teaching methods.

Under a law enacted earlier this year, charter school applicants in school districts rated D or F can apply directly to BESE and 26 did so, up from five last year.

About 57,000 students attend the 104 charter schools that operate now.

One of those that the department recommended for BESE approval is the Dyslexia and Literacy Association of Louisiana.

Dr. Laura Cassidy, president of the board seeking the charter, said Wednesday that the school is drawing heavy interest.

Backers hope to open the school in the fall of 2013, likely on or near the LSU campus.