By Robert Mann
Did you know that Gov. Bobby Jindal is a civil rights leader? Although he’s never spoken much about the subject, Jindal wants you to know that he’s a regular Martin Luther King when it comes to education. His passion, it seems, is helping poor minority children get a better education.
“The next great civil rights fight is really about making sure that every child has a great education,” Jindal said recently. That’s what he says drives his private school voucher program, enacted hastily during the 2012 legislative session.
“Giving every child — no matter race or income — the opportunity to get a great education is a moral imperative,” Jindal wrote in a recent Washington Post column denouncing a U.S. Justice Department motion that would prevent Jindal from awarding vouchers in a way that undermines almost two dozen federal school desegregation suits.
At a press event in Washington on Wednesday, Jindal said, “They are using those [desegregation] laws to trap these children in failing schools.”
Jindal cares deeply about the education of poor minority children, so much so that he has rescued 8,000 of them from “failing” public schools, giving them “scholarships” at high-quality private schools of their choosing.
At least, that’s how Jindal and his supporters hope you’ll see it.
The only problem is, that’s not reality. Here’s the reality.
- Set aside the question of whether the schools are really failing, about 115 private Louisiana schools have accepted voucher students, but most are substandard and mediocre religious outfits. In the most recent round of LEAP testing, the scores for third- through eighth-graders in vouchers schools were terrible. Only 40 percent of voucher students managed a score of “at or above grade level” this year, compared to a state average of 69 percent.
- Of the lists of voucher schools I consulted, only eight were not obviously church-run schools (i.e., Lafayette Christian Academy, Lighthouse Christian Preparatory School, John Paul the Great Academy, etc.).
- According to blogger Lamar White, who has reviewed every anti-discrimination compliance report by these voucher schools, these schools are engaging in rampant discrimination, something civil rights leader Jindal completely ignores. As White explained:
Private schools, after all, are prohibited from using race as a factor in admissions. But they’re not prohibited from using religion or sexual orientation. And Louisiana’s voucher program is funding schools that actively and purposely discriminate against children who are not members of their sponsoring church. In fact, in some cases, we’re actually being asked to pay more to schools for tuition for students who don’t belong to the school’s sponsoring church than we pay for a student who does. We’re subsidizing a parallel system of schools that discriminates against kids for being gay or being physically or mentally disabled (because private schools are not subject to the same standards with respect to disabled students as public schools are).
- And, Jindal and state Education Superintendent John White have not presented evidence to back up their claim that 90 percent of the vouchers are going to black children.
So, what’s really going on here?
Instead buying these children a better education as part of a new-found passion for civil rights, Jindal’s voucher program is really just a vote-buying operation aimed at the Christian right.
If Jindal really believed he was leading a new civil rights movement, why is he only now talking about it in these terms?
Only when the U.S. Justice Department charges that state education officials have violated federal desegregation orders by pulling minority children out of schools without court permission does an indignant Jindal shed crocodile tears for these children.
“Parents should be able to decide [where these children go to school], not bureaucrats in Baton Rouge or Washington,” Jindal wrote in his Washington Post column.
Of course, these are children whose parents Jindal also denies Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, so his concern for them is a bit suspect.
In one case, they’re also children whom Jindal’s Department of Education kept in their failing schools this summer, citing the exact federal desegregation orders that now offend him so much.
In St. Helena Parish, a group of parents recently sued the state, arguing that their children are trapped in failing schools being run by the state’s Recovery School District. White and Jindal, who preach that parents are always the best judges of which schools kids should attend, fought the parents with all their might. And they won.
In fact, you may be surprised to learn that in rebuffing these parents, White and his Department of Education argued in federal court that allowing the parents to remove their children from the RSD schools, “would likely result in a further segregative effect,” would “promote segregation,” and would “further dilute the already small white student population.”
Whatever happened to letting parents decide?
The Department of Justice responded to Jindal’s complaints this week, noting in a statement that the governor’s own voucher law says his program must comply with federal desegregation suits. “The department’s request is fully consistent with the Louisiana law that established the voucher program, which provides that the program is ‘subject to any court-ordered desegregation plan in effect for the school system in which the public school is located.’”
Truth is, if Jindal and White truly cared about these children, they would quit using them as pawns in Jindal’s national political games and really do something about the crushing poverty that cripples them and their families and undermines their success.
If they really cared, they’d make sure that they all had school-based health clinics with registered nurses to attend to their physical wellbeing. They’d make sure every child had access to a world-class pre-school program with qualified teachers. They support increasing the minimum wage so that every worker in Louisiana could support his or her family. They’d devote their efforts to helping teachers improve their performance, instead of insulting and abusing them.
And if they really cared about the quality of education in Louisiana, Jindal and White would make sure that their voucher schools and their teachers were held to the same high standards that they now apply to public schools.
But, afraid of offending his religious conservative base, Jindal would never do that.
If Jindal really regarded himself a civil rights leader devoted to the principle that parents are the best judges of where their kids should go to school, he and White would drop their cynical and hypocritical objections to earnest wishes of parents in St. Helena Parish.
Louisiana voucher students “aren’t leaving the public system, in exodus, for schools like Jesuit or Newman or St. Thomas More,” Lamar White, the blogger, told me. “They’re being outsourced to New Living Word and Cenla Christian Academy and the school run by the self-anointed prophet Leonard Lucas.
“They’re not enrolling in private schools that have gifted and talented programs or offer AP classes or the IB program,” he added. “They’re being shuffled into schools that teach from Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), aBEKA, and Bob Jones University textbooks. They’re being taught that evolution is false; the dinosaurs lived with man; the Ku Klux Klan had some noble intentions.”
(White, by the way, has posted some fascinating and very good commentary about the Louisiana voucher program on his excellent blog, Cenlamar.com.)
It’s really as simple as this: Bobby Jindal’s voucher program is a massive scam aimed at buying the good will and votes of the Christian right.
Jindal cares as much about civil rights as I care about miniature taxidermy.
- The Miseducation of Bobby Jindal: School Vouchers and Discrimination (Part II) (dailykingfish.com)
- La. governor demands feds drop suit against state (news.yahoo.com)
- House Republicans: End La. voucher challenge (sfgate.com)
- Analysis: DOJ lawsuit gives Jindal new attention (sfgate.com)