By Robert Mann
Let’s be grateful for former Gov. Bobby Jindal. He was a failure, but at least one of his failures gave us an inkling of how disastrous President-elect Donald Trump’s national education policies could be.
In nominating billionaire activist Betsy DeVos for education secretary, Trump has signaled that, like Jindal, abandoning public schools is one promise he hopes to keep. Trump proposes using $20 billion in federal funds as block grants to encourage states to fund private-school vouchers. That would mean diverting another $110 billion in state and local funds to send students to private schools that conservatives like DeVos claim are superior to their so-called “government school” counterparts.
However, Trump and DeVos — who has spent $1.6 million trying to influence Louisiana elections — must persuade cash-strapped governors and legislators to spend scarce resources on a scheme that’s failed wherever it’s been tried.
This is where the disappointment of Jindal’s voucher program enters the picture, as policy makers and the media will inevitably examine its dismal performance. At Jindal’s urging, in 2008 lawmakers created the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), enabling some disadvantaged students to leave public schools graded a C or lower and enroll in a participating private school. By 2014, more than 6,000 public school students attended one of 126 private schools.
In 2015, Jindal bragged about his program. “For students attending private schools on public dollars, almost all of whom arrived several years behind, their lives are being turned around,” he wrote in a column on CNN’s website.
If only that were true. In a paper published last year by the National Bureau for Economic Research, three scholars documented “the large negative effects” and the reduced academic achievements of scholarship program students in 2013, the first year after the program’s expansion.
“Our results show that LSP vouchers reduce academic achievement,” the researchers concluded, explaining, “attendance at an LSP-eligible private school is estimated to lower math scores” and “reduce reading, science and social studies scores.”
Why? “We find evidence,” the researchers wrote, “that the negative effects of the LSP may be linked to selection of low-quality private schools into the program.”
A comprehensive 2016 study of the program for the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans also concluded “an LSP scholarship user who was performing at roughly the 50th percentile at baseline fell 24 percentile points below their control group counterparts in math after one year. By year 2, they were 13 percentile points below.”
Imagine that. Pluck kids from troubled public schools, put them into substandard private schools and — voila! — you’ve made their academic condition worse.
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