Ask any politician. Ask any citizen. Ask any parent. Since it is a given that we are last in almost all measures of social and economic success, what is the one thing that will change Louisiana for the better.
To no one’s surprise the answer will always be education. Unfortunately to most people that is just a talking point, something that they think they know, but have no idea how it would be accomplished. The reason that no one knows what to do is that for generations we a have become so inculcated with the image of the traditional school that just works, the school that we, our parents, and our grandparents went to. In fact, today’s schools do not work, and today’s management of schools does not work. There is little success to be found in public education in the Bayou State.
In 2011 Bobby Jindal explained this to the people of Louisiana and promised a very specific strategy to re-create education in Louisiana. The people intuitively understood that he was on the right track and awarded his promise that he would be the education governor by re-electing him with an astounding 71% of the vote. By comparison, our present governor barely won with a 20,000-vote swing re-election against a political outsider.
I have an intimate understanding of the Jindal strategy because I was his education leader in the Senate. That strategy for success was simple, based upon three principles: high standards, accountability, and parental choice. With wide majorities we passed three bills that where nationally recognized as the strongest education reforms to date.
Ironically, there was vociferous opposition from the very groups that should have been the leaders in reform. I say ironically because it’s critical to understand what role they play in the education process. In my 11 years on the education committee I cannot remember one time that the teacher’s unions, the School Boards, or the Superintendents came to us with any ideas on how to improve education. But they were there in force in 2012 to fight the reforms.
Almost as soon as the reforms were passed, they fell under attack from both sides of the political spectrum. Jindal forgetting about his oath to the people and his promises of being the education governor sided with the far-right in his run for President. In order to appeal to that constituency he savaged our push to raise standards. And then Louisiana elected and then re-elected as governor a strong political ally of the teacher’s unions, John Bel Edwards. The result of his election has been that the reforms have hardly been implemented and otherwise have been watered down to the point of being ineffectual.
Despite the opposition we have seen some incremental improvements, but generally we are just about where we started in 2011 when Jindal made his bold pronouncement and the people approvingly gave him that 71% of the vote. In fact, I dare say in the last nine years we have heard almost nothing other than continued attacks to indicate that our political leaders have even the slightest degree of the political courage that Jindal briefly displayed back in 2011-12. That is too bad, because in those years we have lost at least one more generation to ignorance, poverty, and social ills.
And yet ask any politician, ask any citizen, ask any parent how do we fix Louisiana and their answer will always be education. The kids are waiting for someone who has the political courage to dash all the monuments to hypocrisy that exist in Baton Rouge. Who knows how many more children will be lost until we have someone who has that courage and whom the people will support over the education status quo.