APPEL: On Bob Mann’s Defense Of Failure In Public Education

Times Picayune editorial writer Bob Mann, in his Sunday column, has demonstrated the divide between those who are trying to improve the lives of our citizens and those who have always taken advantage of the unfortunate situation of our most vulnerable citizens.

In attacking our state’s bold new educational reforms he writes that the legislature and the governor have “walled off” poor and minority children, those who are public school students. Mr. Mann’s words represent those, including the school boards and the teachers’ unions, who liked things as they were and his words speak volumes. Their goal is simple – undo what has been done and return to the days when they dictated the direction of education policy in Louisiana.

In seeking to attack those of us who demanded reform, Mr. Mann has regurgitated the union line with his loosely veiled philosophy.

If we were merely sleeping in gated communities, the estrangement and damage to community would be bad enough. But fortress mentality has now reached American education in the form of charter schools, private schools and breakaway school districts.

Private schools have long flourished in America for reasons legitimate (religious and scholastic), and some not so legitimate (race). But now many parents and taxpayers – manipulated by politicians who argue that the only way to fix public education is to weaken it with privatization – are giving up on the very idea of public schools.

A strong component of Louisiana’s education “reform” agenda – led by Gov. Bobby Jindal and state education Superintendent John White – is abandoning public schools in favor of private educational enclaves.

The factual basis of his column fails on a number of salient points and that failure sets out the lack of regard that the forces of the status quo, to which he clearly has subscribed, have for our children.

His editorial effort is to somehow demonstrate that the emphasis of the reforms is placed upon ending traditional public schools and to privatize public education. This is not new reasoning. Since our effort to challenge the existing failed system began, this logic has been promulgated by the unions and others who do not want to see change. Mr. Mann conveniently ignores the fact that there is a statistical basis that drives the very substance of the reform movement.

In simple terms, there are about 700,000 kids enrolled in public K – 12 education system in our state. Something less than 8,000 students are enrolled in the voucher program. The cost for this program is about $29 million, a drop in bucket when compared to the $3.5 billion MFP budget plus the matching local district spending. In all, we spend on average about $8,500 per student, and the loss of the MFP allocation due to the voucher program is virtually meaningless to schools and systems following the established template.

Mr. Mann and the opponents of parental choice make it sound like this minor effort to give parents an opportunity to get their children out of the poverty cycle is the death knell of traditional education, but the numbers don’t lie. It is a very small program that has little chance to expand to a large size in the near future simply because the student slots for required for massive growth do not and will not exist.

Mr. Mann goes on to attack the RSD, which until recently was almost entirely centered in New Orleans. Of course, he again conveniently fails to note that the RSD replaced the most corrupt and most absurdly failed school system in the United States. This was the union-dominated Orleans Parish School Board which, until Katrina, was a traditional school board structure. Yes, he is right; the performance of the RSD schools is not where we want to see it. But for the first time in decades, the trends are substantially up and corruption is not the rule.

In his ramblings Mr. Mann glaringly omitted any discussion of the most significant elements of Louisiana’s reforms. Act 54 of 2011, Act 1 of 2012, the very important Common Core strategy, and the A,B,C grading system, when taken as a whole, are by far the most significant reforms to any K-12 system in the country. These reforms spell the end to a system of education that was focused on adults and not on children. As these reforms become fully implemented this year we can, for the first time in anyone’s memory, achieve an expectation that Louisiana will rise from the bottom of the national rankings of educational outcomes. We can also take great pride that our reforms are so important that they being studied and emulated by many states and even foreign countries.

There is one last but important point that the far left, represented by Mr. Mann, has carefully avoided. As noted, this Republican governor and Republican majority legislature took on the task of changing for all time the disaster that was Louisiana’s educational system. The unspoken truth from which the far left can’t hide is very clear;

Who are the greatest beneficiaries of a successful public education system?….The poor and our minority citizens are.

Who claims to represent these segments of our population?….The Democrat Party and the Legislative Black Caucus do.

Who has fought the hardest and taken the most political heat for trying to provide relief and a future for the poor and minorities?….Our Republican governor and Republican legislative delegation have.

Where have the Democrats been?….In unified opposition to all efforts to help the people of Louisiana.

It is ironic to the point of absurdity that far left writers like Mr. Mann constantly attack the reforms meant to help the very people he would claim as his Democrat Party’s own! Actually, perhaps it is not so! It is clear that the Democrat claim to support from minorities and the poor has always been based upon its use of demagoguery and fear mongering. We must remember that the Democrats and their union allies have controlled education policy down to the school board level for as long as anyone can remember.

And yet where has the outrage been from writers like Mr. Mann for all those years in which our state’s children have suffered under the Democrat mismanaged education system?….Only silence!

Out of the sheer love of our state, we Republicans have taken on the campaign to free our people from ignorance. We seek no compensation, political or otherwise, only a satisfaction in knowing that we are trying. We share an unfettered optimism for the future of all citizens of Louisiana and petty attacks by people who seek to destroy what is noble and good will be met with the truth.

Let our actions speak louder than any misguided efforts of the status quo folks who would take us back to the bad old days!

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