The new school year is barely a month old and Falesha Augustus can already sense life is going to be very different for her 10-year-old son Willie.
The fourth grader was one of 4,944 Louisiana children fortunate enough to win a scholarship to a private school under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s expanded school voucher program.
Because Willie attended a failing school last year, he was able to qualify for a scholarship to enroll in the school of his Mom’s choice. She picked Hosanna Christian Academy in Baton Rouge because of its focus on discipline, structure and smaller class sizes.
“In just a few short weeks, he has learned so much,” Falesha says. “All I hear about is how he is eager to learn, and he is discovering this and that. Willie is way happier than he has ever been – and he is not coming home complaining about being bullied like he did.”
Thus are the benefits of offering parents the option of something other than a government-mandated public school for their children. If parents want their child to be in a school where children get more individual attention resulting in better student outcomes, a school voucher program enables them to shop for that school.
If parents fear their child is not learning or is in danger, they can use a voucher like a consumer looks for the best doctor for their child. Or if they want a faith-based school, they have that choice as well.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 declared school voucher programs constitutional because money is sent to parents in the form of a coupon or check who then endorses it to the school. In effect, it is the taxpayers’ funds that follow the child to the school of his or her parents’ choice.
Thousands of Louisiana parents are already hearing about the possibilities that will be available for their children with this new scholarship program. For the 2012-13 school year, demand for scholarships already outstripped supply.
And data show the program will save Louisiana taxpayers money as it is cheaper to educate children at private schools.
This academic year, the average tuition voucher is worth $5,300 compared to the projected per-pupil expenditure of $8,837 in public schools. State officials estimate the scholarship program saved taxpayers about $18 million.
Even with higher spending levels, 71.6 percent of Louisiana public schools were rated C, D or F, according to the Louisiana Department of Education. The state had a dropout rate of 14.6 percent in 2011 and 34 percent of college freshman in 2010 needed remediation.
The Louisiana public employee unions are challenging the voucher program in court next month. This is yet another move that illustrates they are more interested in preserving their power than ensuring children are safe, happy and ready to learn. Their monopoly hold on students has not helped children like Willie Augustus nor tens of thousands of other Louisiana pupils who want options other than their neighborhood public school.
Willie’s Mom says he is the largest student in his fourth grade class because he was held back a grade while in public school. “Those schools failed my child,” she said. “He did not learn the fundamentals, and the classes were often out of control.”
Willie’s experience was not unique. Thanks to Gov. Jindal’s voucher plan, Louisiana parents will now have choices to go elsewhere if they believe their public school is not doing the job. Their children may now have a future beyond dropping out or being held back.
Enlow is President and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the legacy foundation of Nobel laureate and school choice founder Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose.