Louisiana’s new statewide voucher program offers our most vulnerable families an enormous opportunity, true cause for celebration. The program will enable more than 5,000 students from low-income and working-class families to escape under-performing schools and attend private or parochial schools with taxpayer-funded vouchers offsetting the cost of tuition. The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) worked hard to help ensure the program’s enactment, believing that all parents deserve to choose the best school for their children, regardless of income or zip code. Yet we know that choice is not a sufficient end in itself. Affording parents the right to choose and giving them the resources to opt out of failing schools is just the beginning. Before a child can receive a quality education, parents and other caregivers must educate themselves about the choices available, giving careful thought to what constitutes a quality school.
Quality is at the core of BAEO’s mission. We don’t simply want more options for low-income and working-class Black families, we want better options—high-performing schools that offer our children a real shot at the American dream. And we’re not seduced by labels. “Private” or “parochial” is not a guarantee of excellence. While many private and parochial schools outperform their public counterparts, some do not. A savvy educational consumer can discern the difference.
We look for quality through clear and measurable indicators, asking such questions as the following:
- Do the school’s students meet or exceed the performance of their peers locally, nationally, and internationally?
- Are the school’s graduates prepared for college or for the 21st-century world of work?
- Is the teaching and learning process at the school responsive to the needs of each student?
- Does the school have the human, administrative, and financial resources to fulfill its mission?
- Does the school offer an inclusive, engaging, and reflective environment where interactions among all are respectful and supportive?
Earlier this week, the state education department announced the list of private and parochial schools approved to participate in the newly expanded voucher program. Parents have until June 29 to submit completed applications to the private school they would like their child to attend. BAEO will be working intensively to equip them with the tools they need to evaluate their options and make the best choice for their children.
The statewide expansion of the voucher program has opened a lot of doors for Louisiana families – at last. Like the old game show, however, choosing the right one can make all the difference. BAEO stands ready to eliminate the guesswork and ensure that our children get the quality education they deserve.
Eric Lewis is Louisiana State Director for the Black Alliance for Educational Options, an organization formed to increase access to high-quality educational options for Black children by actively supporting parental choice policies and programs that empower low-income and working-class Black families. Find out more at louisiana.baeo.org.