Christian Life’s Letter Shows ‘Accountability’ Measures Damage School Choice Bill

One of the major attacks being made on HB 976, the school choice bill which will be voted on tomorrow at the Louisiana Senate – and if it gets 20 of the 39 votes on the floor tomorrow it will go to Gov. Bobby Jindal for his signature – is that it doesn’t provide enough “accountability” for the portion of the bill providing for school vouchers.

The Governor has stated that no such accountability measures are necessary, because as he puts it, “parents are the highest form of accountability.”

Meaning that a voucher confers an agency upon a parent for their child’s education. That voucher equates to the state telling a parent, “OK, we’re giving you the power to take your kid out of a school we’ve considered as failing, and along with that power we are giving you the responsibility to go out and procure educational services for that kid. You now have the monetary resources to put your child into an institution that will do better than the school you’re taking him/her out of, and it’s up to you to make it work.”

Providing “accountability” measures beyond what’s already in the law, namely that kids getting vouchers who end up at private schools have to take the same tests that public school kids take, only weaken that parental agency the state creates with this plan. There are those who would impose that accountability – like for example Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who yesterday, while screaming about a public records request we at the Hayride made of her correspondence with teacher union bosses who have made precisely the same arguments, had this to say in an e-mail to her supporters…

Real reform must be measured by the highest standards of accountability and a commitment to fixing what ails our public schools, not discarding the entire system and setting off into uncharted, and accountable, educational waters.

She meant to say “unaccountable,” but precise language tends to get lost when you’re frothing at the mouth.

Those who have taken the time to think the concept of vouchers through, however, don’t have such difficulties with precision.

Those who have taken the time to think the concept of vouchers through recognize that in creating that parental agency, the state is giving parents the ability to make economic decisions as consumers on the education of their kids that most poor people are perfectly capable of making. Your average poor household in Louisiana has virtually every appliance wealthy households have, a vehicle, a video game system, cable TV and probably the internet as well – and you’d be surprised how many cell phones (and sophisticated ones at that) poor folks have.

And nobody stepped in and regulated the economic decisions of those poor people which resulted in those products arriving in their homes.

That means it’s not unreasonable for our politicians to give those parents who care enough about their kids’ educations to seek a voucher the maximum possible universe of educational choices. After all, they’re eligible for the voucher because the schools their kids are currently rated “C” or below – and that’s a “C” in Louisiana, where educational outcomes rank 47th in the country. Does anybody not beholden to the teachers’ unions really think those parents will really do a worse job than the non-performing local school districts they’re coming from have done?

But no, the “accountability” sentinels scold us. You can’t turn money the state is now spending on some of the worst schools in America loose for parents to use without regulating the dickens out of the schools that money ends up with.

Because that would be a disaster, right?

Well, it appears the alternative is that you might have a voucher program with no place for the voucher recipients to send their kids.

At least one fairly prominent school in Baton Rouge is now unmistakably saying that if Jindal’s voucher plan is encumbered with a bunch of punitive or burdensome regulations the state can forget about trying to place kids there with that plan.

Christian Life Academy is the school, and Dr. Jere Melilli is the founder. Melilli and Peter Barnes, the school’s headmaster, put out a letter to the parents of CLA’s current students making it clear that they will not participate in any voucher program which imposes “accountability” standards the teachers’ pets like Karen Carter Peterson would place upon it.

The Times-Picayune got a copy of the letter, which reads as follows…

TO: All Concerned Parents of CLA Students

From: Dr. Jere D. Melilli, M.D., Pastor and Founder

Mr. Peter S. Barnes, Headmaster

RE: Proposed State Educational Voucher Program

The political rhetoric to which we have all been exposed can be very confusing and alarming. As the voucher program and educational reforms proposed by Governor Jindal have advanced, we have been apprised of their development on a regular basis.

Our pastor and founder, Dr. Jere Melilli, has been involved in meetings on this issue with Governor Jindal. He has been invited to two meetings at the Governor’s mansion and is well versed on the particulars, and so additionally is Mr. Gene Mills, the director of Louisiana Family Forum, who is a parent in our school and is an active lobbyist for Christian family values. Dr. Melilli and Mr. Mills have been in attendance at the aforementioned meetings and will continue to be involved in any discussions which relate to private schools, their programs and policies.

Additionally, CLA is member of the Louisiana Association of Independent Schools and Mr. Barnes, CLA Headmaster, serves as the state secretary. Through our membership in the LAIS and Mr. Barnes’ role as a board member, we have access to information through CEC (Citizens for Educational Choice), our nonpublic schools representative on the BESE board, and the non-public schools commission. We are working hard to be well-informed on this issue through these venues.

Like most schools, we are in a waiting pattern to see what the legislature will do. Once we have all the answers that we feel we need, we will make a decision that will preserve all that we love and hold dear at CLA.

Our greatest concern at this moment is the potential for governmental interference in our school. CLA will not enter into a program that has strings attached that would limit or prohibit the continuation of our Christian values, selective decisions about the hiring of staff, selective decisions about the acceptance of students or the choice of our curriculum. Furthermore, we are not in favor of state mandated testing and will not enter into programs that require that we participate. Governor Jindal is in complete agreement with these policies. He feels that accountability by state testing of students in non-public schools would open the door for the government to intrude in areas that we are trying to promote and protect.

We are also concerned by the potential academic weakness of students who may be available to attend our school through the voucher program. We do not wish for an influx of students that would require the ”watering down” of our curriculum or that would compromise our behavioral expectations.

Just because a child’s economic situation or the location of their home requires that they attend a failing school, it does not necessarily follow that the child is weak or lacks the intelligence or ability to succeed in our school. It may be that they are behind due to the state of their school or quality of their teachers. We realize that such academic deficiencies would have to be addressed should any such students be admitted to CLA.

Before we would even agree to participate in this program, we will require guarantees that we are free of governmental oversight and input. We will continue to approach each applicant as we do now…by reviewing grade and behavioral history, admissions testing, recommendations from prior school(s) and interviews. We have no intention of changing our entrance requirements. We emphasize that IF we decide to venture into this territory, we will remain a selective admissions school.

We will keep our parents informed as this issue progresses. In the meantime, our door is always open to hear the concerns and input of any CLA parent.

This is being reported, by for example the Baton Rouge Business Report which gave it a headline of “Christian Life Academy officials express wariness toward voucher program,” as less-than-full support of the voucher plan. In fact, it’s relatively strong support. Melilli and Barnes address two concerns they’ve no doubt heard from their parents by saying they’ll participate in the voucher plan only if they can do so by satisfying those concerns.

And the first one is the state intrusion into CLA’s curriculum or operations. Peterson, John Bel Edwards and the rest of the Democrat leaders in the legislature who have parroted the teacher union party line on vouchers would insist on schools like Christian Life weighing themselves down with bureaucracy (or educracy, as the case may be).

Should Christian Life take on students coming from failing East Baton Rouge Parish public schools, is it really necessary for them to prove their worth in comparison to those schools?

Or will this resume suffice?

Last spring CLA graduated a class of 40 students; almost no students ever drop out before graduation. Of that 40 (from the CLA website)…

  • 8 Honor Graduates (20%) 3.75 GPA or higher
  • 6 Honor Graduates (15%) 4.0 GPA or higher
  • 6 Honor Graduates (15%) attended CLA for all of HS
  • Honor Grad ACT Average 27 (highest score is 34)
  • Class ACT Average 23.2
  • 28 of the 40 graduates (70%) attended CLA for all of HS
  • 20 of the 40 graduates (50%) attended CLA for 6 years or more
  • 6 of the 40 graduates (15%) attended CLA for 12 years or more
  • 40 of the 40 graduates (100%) have immediate plans in place to further their formal education
  • 32 of the 40 graduates (80%) will attend a 4 year college or university with a degree terminating program of study
  • 7 of the 40 graduates (17.5%) will attend a Junior College with plans to transfer to a college or university to complete a degree terminating program of study
  • 1 of the 40 graduates will enter a professional or technical school
  • 1 of the 40 graduates will enter the military and then go on to college after military service is complete
  • 6 of the 40 graduates (15%) have represented CLA as missionaries to foreign countries
  • 19 of the 40 graduates (47.5%) have met the TOPS scholarship criteria and have earned full tuition at the LA state college or university of their choice
  • 22 of the 40 graduates (55%) have earned scholarships with a total value of $1,801,142.00 or an average of $81,870 per student

We need to impose “accountability” on a school which pumps 80 percent of its students into four-year colleges?

The other part of the Christian Life letter involves the voucher program’s non-selectivity, which is an issue of practicality that might well need to be addressed given time. But Melilli and Barnes don’t reject the program in its current form; what they say is that they recognize there might be students coming from failing schools who need to be brought up to speed upon arrival there. But they distinctly do not say that’s a dealbreaker; they only say that they won’t compromise their current offerings in order to participate in the voucher program. The guess here is there will be a great many established private and parochial schools who will insist, as CLA does, that if the state wants them to participate in the voucher program the Department of Education will have to come to some reasonable accomodation which doesn’t involve taking in uneducatable hellions; and if the Education Department wants the program to succeed it will find a way to run things everyone can live with.

The point being, though, that CLA has injected a dose of reality into the discussion. And by doing so, they’ve helped expose the fact that the teachers’ unions and their pets in the legislature are much more interested in destroying the voucher program in practice than safeguarding the children.

Interested in more news from Louisiana? We've got you covered! See More Louisiana News
Previous Article
Next Article
Join the Conversation - Download the Speakeasy App.

Trending on The Hayride