Louisiana School Voucher Debacle
Rachel Tabachnick printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Jun 08, 2012 at 12:19:19 PM EST
If improving the quality of education is the goal, Louisiana is headed in the wrong direction.

Louisiana's new school voucher program will provide public education dollars to students from low and middle-income families to use for full tuition at a list of approved private schools. This program will include about 5100 students in the 2012 -2013 school year, but will dramatically expand in 2013 -2014.  The list of 120 schools and number of available slots at each is posted on the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) website. According to local press, the schools have been approved through a phone call with the LDOE and without site visits. Some lack basic facilities and are using homeschooling DVDs for instruction.  The curriculum at some of the private schools includes A Beka Books and other programs that teach Creationism and global warming denial, as well as demeaning Catholicism, Mormonism, other Christian sects, and non-Christian religions.

 The LDOE website has a map and list showing the participating schools, location, and numbers of spots available. Of the 118 schools on that list, I found only seven that are secular schools or not specifically identified as religious.  Of the religious schools, one is one Jewish, one Islamic (showing as withdrawn) and the rest are Catholic or Protestant. This includes a few Baptist, Lutheran and Pentecostal schools, and one Seventh Day Adventist, but the majority of the Protestant schools are nondenominational.

Some of the most established and prestigious of the private schools are offering only a few available spots for voucher students, while those showing the most available are schools like New Living Word School in Ruston, as reported by Reuters.


"The school willing to accept the most voucher students -- 314 -- is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition."
According to New Living Word's website, these instructional packages are published by A Beka Books.  The school currently meets in Sunday School classrooms at the church.

An oped in the the New Orleans Times-Picayune from March warned about the lack of accountability in the voucher program.  Jarvis DeBerry wrote,

"Let's start the improvements by making sure that schools that take voucher students are actually capable of teaching them, that they're not like the home-elevation companies that sprang up overnight in Louisiana just to scoop in hazard mitigation money being doled out by the state. The Jindal administration was slow to respond when homeowners complained that unscrupulous contractors were ripping them off."

Instead, Gov. Bobby Jindal and the pro-privatization juggernaut has ignored the pleas of the public, including from organizations that have generally supported school reform including vouchers. The "high-stakes test" referred to below is LEAP, the assessment test administered by the state in 4th and 8th grades.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana said in a report last week that Gov. Jindal's plan "appears to allow voucher students who fail the high-stakes tests to be socially promoted with few questions asked." On Feb. 6, I emailed one of the governor's spokesmen several questions about the voucher program, including this one: "If a student fails the LEAP in a private school, is he or she denied promotion?"

This was Aaron Baer's response: "We've provided evidence that the scholarship program is working and parents are overwhelmingly satisfied. It's also clear that current system is failing far too many students. How many kids over how many decades would you trap in failing schools while you wait on MORE data the program is working?"

It had been the strategy of the Jindal administration to attack anybody with questions about the governor's plan as if he or she hates children, essentially to belittle all skeptics as radicals philosophically opposed to reform."

The Bureau of Government Research ( a New Orleans nonprofit) stated the following in a report on Louisiana's program.

"Under the proposed program, a student could use a voucher to transfer from an average-quality public school to a low-quality private school with no track record or qualifications. The student's academic performance could decline, and the state would impose no penalties on the school. And taxpayers would foot the bill for all of it."

The claimed success of school vouchers by pro-privatization research has been based almost solely on a higher graduation rate.  However, in the existing programs there is little or no oversight of the schools providing these diplomas. The fact that students stick around to graduate says nothing about the quality of their education.  Testing thus far in existing voucher programs, including the oldest voucher program in Milwaukee, indicates that these students score no better or worse than their public school counterparts.  In Milwaukee, some private schools have less than 20 per cent of their voucher students scoring proficient or better in math or reading, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.    

Much of the research touting positive results from voucher programs has come from Milton Friedman's Foundation on Educational Excellence and from the Department of Education Reform at University of Arkansas, funded by the Walton Foundation.  The pro-privatization effort is also promoted by Religious Right organizations including Family Research Council, Focus on Family, and American Family Association (AFA).

American Family Association: Vouchers not Privatization

AFA's news network has tried to counter the bad press on Louisiana's voucher program with an article titled Vouchers Don't Mean Privatization. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice's Jeff Reed told OneNewsNow.com, a division of American Family Association's news network, that the recent media describing Louisiana's voucher system as "privatizing" Louisiana education is an exaggeration.  The nonprofit was founded and led for many years by Milton Friedman, the economist who made it very clear that his goal was  to privatize public education.  

In a 1995 Washington Post article Friedman wrote,

"The problem is how to get from here to there. Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system."
Friedman continued,
"The business community has a major interest in expanding the pool of well-schooled potential employees and in maintaining a free society with open trade and expanding markets around the world. Both objectives would be promoted by the right kind of voucher system.

Finally, as in every other area in which there has been extensive privatization, the privatization of schooling would produce a new, highly active and profitable private industry that would provide a real opportunity for many talented people who are currently deterred from entering the teaching profession by the dreadful state of so many of our schools."

The article is posted at the Cato Institute as a Briefing Paper titled Public Schools: Make Them Private.

If Friedman were alive today, he might be alarmed at the direction that privatization is taking.  States across the nation are handing over millions of dollars of public money to schools with no accountability for facilities, teachers, or curriculum. Some of these schools receiving public funds are teaching Creationism, global warming denial, bigotry toward other religions, and history not based on facts.

Part Two in this series will be a peek into the curriculum in private schools using A Beka, Bob Jones University Press, and Accelerated Christian Education.  Some of the Louisiana private schools on the list use these textbooks or DVD series for teaching their students. See a previous Talk2action.org article on A Beka and Bob Jones curricula.

Also see Kristin Rawls article on the Louisiana voucher program in http://www.alternet.org/story/155802/5_ways_louisianas_new_vouche r_program_spells_disaster_for_public_education?page=entire Alternet.




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