Why Is Jindal Pushing So Hard To Pass His Education Reform Plan? Because It’s What The People Want

So says a poll conducted late last month by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the Pelican Institute for Public Policy.

And it’s really not all that close, if the poll results are to be believed. As in 60 percent of the voters want to expand the state’s school voucher program out of New Orleans and into the rest of the state.

The poll, conducted by Braun Research, is interesting in its methodology. It was conducted over eight days in the latter part of February, and it started with a statewide sample of 802 registered voters. But the pollster kept going to generate results in five parishes in the southeast part of the state – Orleans, East Baton Rouge, St. Tammany, Livingston and Tangipahoa – to generate some specific results.

Orleans is essentially the test case for the design of Jindal’s statewide reforms, as Orleans Parish’s public schools are overwhelmingly charters and kids there have the ability to access vouchers for private schools, at least where spots in those schools are available. East Baton Rouge is the poster child for how Jindal’s reforms are needed, as its school system is a biblical-scale disaster. Tangipahoa, like East Baton Rouge, is similarly a failed system where voters just killed a tax plan intended at satisfying a desegregation order. And St. Tammany and Livingston are held out as shining examples of successes within the traditional public school model.

But voters in those five parishes aren’t all that different in terms of the sentiment toward Jindal’s plan and education reform in general.

Let’s start with the statewide numbers, which indicate that opponents of Jindal’s package have lost the argument with the public and the governor can only help himself by hitting the gas on his plan.

For example…

  • Just 34 percent of the respondents statewide think K-12 education is on the right track, while 50 percent say it’s on the wrong track;
  • Only 7 percent say Louisiana’s public schools are excellent, 26 percent say good, 37 percent say fair and 26 percent say poor;
  • Just 10 percent give the traditional public schools in their area an “A,” 24 percent a “B,” 33 percent a “C,” 22 percent a “D” and 8 percent an “F,” with slightly better ratings of charter schools (and that’s explainable due to the fact that most areas of the state have few or no charters nearby);
  • Some 28 percent give the local private and parochial schools an “A,” 36 percent a “B,” 16 percent a “C,” 4 percent a “D” and 2 percent an “F;”
  • Between charters (10 percent), homeschooling (8 percent) and private schools (49 percent), some 67 percent of respondents say they’d rather put their kids in something other than a traditional public school (31 percent);
  • By a 63-29 margin, respondents said they either strongly favor (39) or somewhat favor (29) a statewide voucher program to what’s in place now, and by a 63-26 they favored extending Jindal’s Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program specifically to the rest of the state;
  • By a 59-30 margin, respondents agree with allowing parents of kids in C, D and F schools to get vouchers;
  • Though by a 47-36 margin respondents were OK with the concept of teacher tenure, by a 57-31 margin they agreed with Jindal’s changes to the tenure system;

What’s also interesting, though, is that the teachers’ unions have won one aspect of the debate on education – namely, that the respondents have a skewed idea of how much money is actually spent per public school student in the state. Some 57 percent thought Louisiana (as defined by a total of federal, state and local spending) spends less than $8,000 per student, with 29 percent believing that number to be less than $4,000 per student.

Louisiana spends $10,600 per student on average.

What’s interesting, though, is that among the five parishes broken out in the survey there aren’t as many differences between the “successful” school systems and the disasters as you might think.

One example to the contrary was on the right track/wrong track question. St. Tammany (50-35) and Livingston (40-48) respondents were a lot more sanguine than the 34-50 statewide split, though 40-48 in Livingston is hardly a great success. That number is probably explainable by how many Livingston residents moved there to escape the disaster of the East Baton Rouge school system, which registered an awfully-pessimistic 20-64. Tangipahoa’s 33-50 was nearly identical to the state’s average, while charter-and-voucher Orleans’ 48-38 split was almost identical to bedroom-community-and-high-tax-base St. Tammany’s number.

Otherwise, there wasn’t a lot of difference between the five parishes.

A shining example – where teachers’ unions tout Livingston and St. Tammany for their outstanding public schools, only 7 and 8 percent respondents in those parishes, respectively, rated the state’s public schools as excellent. Livingston respondents’ overall number on their schools was 38 percent favorable (excellent or good) and 60 percent unfavorable (fair or poor), while in St. Tammany the split was 43-56. In Orleans the split was 30-66, in Tangipahoa 28-68 and in East Baton Rouge 18-81. Some 43 percent of East Baton Rouge respondents called the schools poor; only 14 percent St. Tammany respondents felt likewise. Even in places where the public schools have a good reputation, the respondents are well aware that they’re an oasis of sorts amid a public education desert.

“Voters in the Bayou State give high marks to school choice and want more kids to have school choice,” said Robert Enlow, President and CEO of the Friedman Foundation. “This poll clearly demonstrates that vouchers are in demand and Louisiana voters support it.”

Other interesting numbers from the survey…

  • Sixty-seven percent of voters in Tangipahoa said they “strongly” or “somewhat favor” expansion of the state’s existing voucher program.
  • Sixty-one percent of voters in Orleans said they too favored expanding the voucher program to include more children in their community.
  • Fifty-nine percent of voters in St. Tammany said they too supported the program’s expansion.
  • Fifty-seven percent of voters in East Baton Rouge said they would also support expansion of the current voucher program to include additional pupils.
  • Fifty-three percent of voters in Livingston Parish said they supported expansion of the existing voucher program.

“We always knew Louisiana was reform-minded,” Enlow said. “This poll shows that taxpayers want more educational freedom for students and more accountability for those who teach in public schools.”

The numbers from the Friedman Foundation/Pelican Institute survey weren’t much different than those produced by Southern Media and Opinion Research in a study released last week.

The point being that Jindal and his education reform allies have done their homework, they’ve got their finger on the public’s pulse and they know they have a mandate to revolutionize the state’s delivery of education.

All the critics have to offer is delaying the process so as to kill it with details. It isn’t going to work, and based on multiple surveys now, it shouldn’t.

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