Staff, parents protest early childhood grant pulled from school following ‘Cost of Choice’ reports

McMillian’s FIRST Steps was notified their $865,115 early childcare contract would not be renewed
Published: May. 20, 2019 at 10:54 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Teachers, students and parents from a childcare program held signs in protest outside LSU Health New Orleans, opposing a decision to end a nearly million-dollar grant with the school.

The group from McMillian’s FIRST Steps Child Care was protesting the decision to withdraw them from the LSU Health Early Head Start Child Care Partnership, which assists in childcare for eligible families of children six weeks to three years of age.

The protest, Friday, was billed as a response to The Cost of Choice joint investigation by FOX 8, | The Times-Picayune and WWNO in partnership with Reveal | The Center for Investigative Reporting. In the press release for the protest, it said parents and staff of McMillian’s would “respond to the unfair media coverage and its attempt to destroy 31 years of educating.”

The joint investigation by the media organizations raised questions about nepotism, outlined a state investigation that detailed allegations of cheating and other concerns related to student test-taking, resulting in the Louisiana Department of Education voiding sixty-one of the school’s 180 tests last year.

But no one who spoke at the event questioned a single piece of our reporting.

Previous story: Family-run school sanctioned by state, receives millions in scholarship dollars

Instead, what occurred was the unraveling of a new problem – the imminent withdrawal of the McMillian’s from the LSU Health-New Orleans childcare partnership that provided the school with $865,115 this past year. That grant provided funding for the care of 72 children at the McMillian campus.

“I know their reputation. I know what they stand for,” Lashawn Futrell, a parent of a child in the early childhood program, said. “I saw what was posted [by the media organizations] however it does not directly affect that program [the childcare program.]”

The protestors shouted ‘We love our kids --- We love our school’ criticizing LSU Health Sciences Center for ending the contract. The program administered by LSU Health-New Orleans is through a federal grant, which allows families below the poverty line with children ages six weeks to three years of age to send their kids to McMillian’s or three other schools for free.

“They provide all of the Pampers, everything you need for the program and it’s like a daycare program,” Futrell said.

LSU Health-New Orleans notified McMillian’s that when their contract expires at the end of July, they would not be renewed, essentially cutting the school out of $865,000 in funding.

A source at LSU and the parent at the protest said LSU Health is ending the contract after seeing the reports in The Cost of Choice investigation.

“If they are going to continue the investigation into the academy part – that’s fine,” Futrell said. “But to pull funding that is going to impact the children, impact the teachers to not have a job and parents who depend on the program and have to work and now we have to hastily try to find somewhere for the kids to go.”

FOX 8's Lee Zurik (left) asks questions to Linda McMillian after a protest outside the LSU...
FOX 8's Lee Zurik (left) asks questions to Linda McMillian after a protest outside the LSU Health-New Orleans campus on Friday, May 17, 2019. McMillian's attorney, Danatus King (right) did not allow her to answer questions.(Cody Lillich, WVUE-TV)

The head of the school, Linda McMillian, spent the news conference off to the side. She stayed silent, only allowing her attorney, Danatus King, to answer questions.

“[They are] Allegations,” King said. “The signs here say, ‘We need facts.’”

King did not allow McMillian to answer questions, instead motioning for her to go off to the side, away from reporters.

“We are going around in circles,” King said to FOX 8’s Lee Zurik who asked why McMillian would not answer questions. “I understand your job. But my job is to make sure we get to what those signs say – the facts. And the facts are not going to be found on this street right now.”

Linda McMillian, left center, looks on as her attorney, Danatus King, speaks to FOX 8's Lee...
Linda McMillian, left center, looks on as her attorney, Danatus King, speaks to FOX 8's Lee Zurik, WWNO's Jess Clark and Kim Chatelain with | The Times-Picayune.(Cody Lillich, WVUE-TV)

The facts King asked for show not only will McMillian’s FIRST Steps not receive the LSU Health grant, but as a result of Louisiana Department of Education sanctions, the school cannot accept new students in the Louisiana Scholarship Program in the 2019-2020 school year.

No one from the McMillian’s school staff spoke at the event, despite saying one would speak in a press release about the event.

As for children in the LSU Health-New Orleans early childcare program, their website indicates there are three other schools available for parents to choose care for their children.

This story is part of a series entitled, The Cost of Choice, a joint investigation by WVUE-TV, | The Times Picayune, WWNO and in partnership with Reveal - The Center for Investigative Reporting.

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