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.

Continue reading on at this link.

10 thoughts on “Jindal’s voucher program is an appalling, slapdash boondoggle

  1. This just jarred my memory about a similar program that happened in the 1967–1968 school year. I was young and didn’t understand it, but something happened at the state level that decreased public support for Catholic schools and there was an influx of students from Catholic schools into public schools because Catholic tuition was out of reach without receiving a subsidy.

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  2. Charter schools are not perfect, but in many cases, they are better than the public schools from which children moved. For instance, in Union Parish a new private school opened several years ago. The curriculum and day-to-day operations seem unduly guided by parents from an area not noted for high educational aspirations or achievements. Principals have been dismissed and public meetings become battles. Some of the teachers are just out of college, and none of them are probably the cream of the crop because salaries are so low. I wouldn’t want my child in that school.

    Yet I wouldn’t want my child in a school so poorly run and supervised that in one class period, fifth-grade students copulated in class, showing others how it was done. Teacher was at an assembly and hadn’t assured his students were with him. The same News-Star that has spotlighted the inadequacies of the charter school also spotlighted that incident and others like it.

    Together, two two schools represent the dilemma of parents in poor areas where public schools have failed their charges and who want their children to have better educations—and school cultures—than that poor-performing Spearsville school where fifth-graders got a public lesson in sexual performance. Consider the aspiration level of that school!

    One answer would be to require charter schools to justify their existence. They should have the same academic accountability requirements that other public schools have. The state should provide the same testing requirements. Good private schools have always tested and then acted on those test results. When people pay for their children’s education, they demand performance. Teachers sit down with parents and explain what test results mean. If remediation is required, they advise parents how to work with the student or to employ a tutor who will work with him so that he may keep pace with the school curriculum. A private school that does not perform to its standards will go out of business.

    And so should any school receiving tuition reimbursement.

    The real answer is to improve public schools. This would make everyone uncomfortable, I suspect, for it would require a higher aspirational level. It would also make education, not “inclusion” a priority and would group students according to their ability levels in their core courses.

    If you’re going to blame Governor Jindal, blame him for not seeing through the educational reforms he advocated. Had he spent his last term as an advocate for better education in Louisiana, instead of touring the nation running for another office, he would have lived up to his promises to those who supported his candidacy. And education in Louisiana would show it.


  3. incidentally more than half the comments to the national news story about this subject are ill-informed. For instance, one person wrote that Finland’s schools are the best in the world and students don’t spend so many hours in class as U.S. students. The fact is that Finland and South Korea have the best schools in the world, and the first step in their improvement programs was to abolish current education schools in universities. They authorized three schools to give educational degrees, and the degree program was a five-year program. The first three and a half years are spent in a liberal arts curriculum that includes a serious math and science component. The last year and a half is devoted to pedagogy and peer reviewed performances. The people who graduate are true professionals and are paid accordingly. The class day is longer than that of the U.S., and homework is more demanding. The nation set a goal and then worked toward implementing programs that made the goal attainable.


  4. The legislative auditor’s report on this program, to which you provide a link, is excellent. It should be required reading for anybody interested in education in Louisiana. It begs one very simple question: Since the goal was to get students into better schools why were a lot of these schools not vetted in advance? Note, in the department’s response to the audit, they do not deny this lapse. This is insane.

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    1. Don’t know if you saw John White’s letter in in response to my column, but it appears he never read the Auditor’s report.


      1. Having now read his letter, I can say he successfully ignored your major points while attempting to make himself look better with statistics that are only superficially positive. He and our former governor must have been in the same deflecting class in school, though they are not nearly as good at it as a whole raft of other politicians.


  5. Bob, I meant “voucher schools” if they are “schools made possible by the state’s voucher systems.” I favor the voucher system if the voucher is used at a school that meets the standards to which all Louisiana schools must meet to be certified and also demonstrates it is superior—or at least equal to–other schools to which the student has access. Why else would the state fund an alternative?

    I wonder if the people who run this state understand that the poor quality of so many Louisiana schools and the appalling lack of leadership on behalf of education is creating a bitter, bitter class divide. My children attended a private prep school that played sports in the public school league. I’ve walked into the gyms of schools out in the woods of North Louisiana and literally felt the hatred of students and parents alike. They didn’t hate our athletic prowess. They hated us because we had access to something they envied—an education that would open doors for its graduates to any college in the nation, that would make scholarships possible. I was always confident that those teams played better against my children’s teams and that even then, they felt underprivileged and resentful.

    We can spend all the money we can locate at our school facilities and mechanical gee gaws, and nothing will improve until we train highly intelligent, highly skilled teachers and then pay them what a person of their intelligence and skill deserves. That would take a revolution, of course, and before that, selflessness and courage on the part of politicians and the folks who head up the education system. So I guess we might not have to worry about a revolution.

    We can’t even draft a reasonable, basic law governing the use of school vouchers.

    That auditor’s report!


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