By Robert Mann
Imagine you live in a dilapidated house. The roof leaks. Windows are broken. There’s no heat in winter. One day, however, a government official offers a lifeline. “We’ll give your family a much better home,” he says. So, you agree, hopeful for a better life.
But after a few years, your situation is no better. In fact, it’s worse. The roof of your “new” house also leaks. The windows? They’re broken, too. Not only does the new place have no heat; there’s also no air conditioning.
This disappointing housing arrangement is analogous to the educational lives of thousands of Louisiana families deceived by former Gov. Bobby Jindal and his state education superintendent, John White, when they persuaded the Legislature to create the Louisiana Scholarship Program in 2008.
The scholarship program covers 7,100 students who are enrolled in 119 private and parochial schools, all subsidized by $42 million in state vouchers. Jindal and White encouraged these low-income families to leave their so-called “failing” public schools for supposedly superior private schools. It turns out they sent the children, instead, to a rag-tag collection of mostly substandard church schools that barely meet the state’s education standards
The controversy over the scholarship program erupted anew in recent weeks after an anti-public school organization with an Orwellian name – the American Federation for Children – began running TV ads attacking Gov. John Bel Edwards, saying he’s undermining the program by cutting its budget by $6 million. Edwards responded that, in tough budgetary times, the voucher program must take its share of the cuts. Edwards promises to maintain the program for current enrollees.
The governor’s reluctance to push for repealing the program has won him no credit from the corporate, anti-public-school crowd. “He lied to me. He lied to my child,” a mother says in one of the spots, suggesting that Edwards is trying to kill the scholarship program.
He’s not, but he should. The scholarship program is an appalling misadventure and a slapdash boondoggle originally implemented to burnish Jindal’s presidential bona fides. Most likely, it also was designed to curry favor with the state’s evangelical voters.
In the beginning, some were schools in name only. One, in Ruston, didn’t have teachers. It relied on DVDs for instruction. If you don’t believe that many of these voucher schools are disgraceful and that Jindal’s and White’s standards were appallingly low (or nonexistent), just Google, “Light City Church School of the Prophets.”
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