In schools all across the country in recent months, bullying has been a serious problem that folks from all walks of life—including politicians, parents, celebrities, and students—have stood up to stop. The consensus has been, rightly, that no child should feel unsafe because of an assault by another.
But what if the tables were turned and it were not students, but the schools themselves, that were being bullied?
That’s the sad reality we now face in Louisiana. In a shockingly callous act of aggression and malice, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) last month threatened schools participating in the statewide voucher program with lawsuits if they didn’t sign a letter—written by an LAE lawyer, no less—saying that they would no longer participate in the program.
No matter that a judge ruled that the unions have no grounds for an injunction stopping the program from moving forward; this is at its core a move by a special interest group with sour grapes over the fact that its power is being challenged. It’s a move by a group of adults who prize their own supremacy over the lives of thousands of children across the state. And it’s a move that exposes just how out of touch the educational establishment is with the will of the people.
It’s an educational establishment that more than 10,300 families have sought to escape in recent weeks. That’s the number of applications the Department of Education received for the newly-expanded voucher program, with almost 5,700 families ultimately receiving scholarship offers. With demand so high that 4,500 families applied for but will not receive a scholarship, how can a local teachers union think it’s okay to bar even more students from getting the high-quality education they deserve?
The reason is simple, and it’s the same reason that bullies take advantage of kids on the playground who are smaller than they are. The LAE has traditionally had power, and the group’s foremost goal has been to maintain that power, even if the cost is the wellbeing of children.
But recent years have seen a wave of grassroots, reform-minded parents, students, and other advocates who are fed up with an education system that ranks 48th among states in K-12 achievement, according Education Week’s comprehensive 2012 “Quality Counts” survey. They’re advocates who helped create a voucher plan in New Orleans four years ago, and who earlier this year encouraged a bipartisan group of legislators to make the program statewide. Four consecutive surveys of parents with students in the program have shown parental satisfaction at above 93 percent.
In sum, reforms are in place and parents love the results. It’s a real challenge to the union’s power, so what do they do? They bully those who are smaller than them. But to threaten private schools across the state—the very entities that are willing to serve some of the most disadvantaged populations across Louisiana—is a remarkably arrogant move, even for a group that has shown itself willing to stand in the way of challenges to their power, no matter the benefit to kids.
But as when children are bullied on playgrounds and kids come to their aid, Louisiana schools are not alone in this fight. We’ve created a legal defense fund to protect schools in the event that the LAE follows through on its threat, no matter how baseless and frivolous it may seem on its face. Whether simply a bout of mean-spirited posturing hoping to scare schools away or a real warning of impending litigation, the schools find themselves on the moral high ground, and as such, shouldn’t be chased away from their perch by a bigger and more powerful organization.
Just as the outcry following a few high-profile instances of bullying incited necessarily-strong reactions, it’s time for us to respond to union scare-tactics by protecting the schools—and by extension, the children and their families—that the LAE wants to strip of scholarships.
We’ve decided that, as a society, we will not tolerate our kids taking advantage of other kids because they’re smaller, weaker, or different. That same standard must apply to our schools themselves; just because some are smaller, not as powerful as the unions, and instituting new—and proven successful—ways of educating our children doesn’t mean that it’s okay for them to be taken advantage of.
Our foremost goal must always be to protect our kids, but to that most effectively, we must protect the institutions in which they want to learn, too.
Kevin P. Chavous is a senior advisor to the Alliance for School Choice. The Alliance earlier this month announced the formation of a legal defense fund to protect private schools in the event of an LAE lawsuit. To learn more, visit www.LouisianaDefenseFund.com.