In a June 1, 2012 Reuters article, “Louisiana’s bold bid to privatize education,” author Stephanie Simon unfairly critiques the state’s newly expanded voucher program, thereby missing the mark as to what the program truly does—educate the most disadvantaged children all across Louisiana.
While taking aim at the participating “Bible-based church schools,” Simon fails to note that nearly 72 percent of public schools in the state are rated as low-performing while 230,000 public school students are performing below grade level. To justify a limited palette of options for these children based on unfounded assertions is downright wrong, and quite frankly, constitutes a sad form of contemporary bigotry.
Far more important than the schooling delivery mechanism is a school’s outcomes – and with nearly three-quarters of kids stuck in failing schools, shouldn’t they get a shot at a better outcome than they’ve been getting until now? Many of today’s lowest-performing public schools have been doing so for years, chronically offering children a subpar education with little in the way of consequences. It’s a far cry from how things do and will operate in the voucher program, where if a school isn’t performing, it will be weeded out.
As in any other market, competition is key to maximizing successful outcomes. Branded by stagnancy and failure for far too many years, Louisiana’s public schools have proven that with lack of competition comes lack of performance. A missing factor, however, is consequence. Voucher schools that show an inability to produce results will come with penalties from parents who will instead choose to send their children elsewhere. It’s a reality that, unfortunately, doesn’t exist for most Louisiana families today.
Simon’s article also mischaracterizes the political realities of the efforts it took to pass the voucher expansion. Far from a single-party issue, a dozen Democrats in the state’s House and nearly half of Senate Democrats stood in support of the school choice legislation, which creates one of the nation’s broadest-ever school voucher programs.
Opponents have continuously tried to paint school choice as a partisan issue in order to create further divides where both sides are otherwise increasingly coming together. Republicans and Democrats—myself included—support this issue for one important reason: it’s the right thing to do.
In Orleans Parish, where I was a part of the fight to create the New Orleans program five years ago, I have seen firsthand what a transformative process receiving a quality education can be. Poor families who once had no hope now see no limit to their child’s success. There are countless stories out there of children who have been rescued from failure because of this program—I know because I’ve witnessed it.
Stories in newspapers and from national wire services may belittle low-income parents and their ability to make the best decisions for their children, but in reality, over 93 percent of parents in the New Orleans program are satisfied with their child’s school. And come next year, don’t be surprised if thousands more families throughout the rest of the state are singing the same tune.
Rather than squabbling about party lines or creating a false narrative about private schools versus public schools, we need to put parents and children at the crux of the discussion. To do anything else before even giving the expanded voucher program a chance is a disservice to the parents crying out for more options.
Kevin P. Chavous
Kevin P. Chavous is a senior advisor to the American Federation for Children.