There’s a reason that all these school choice initiatives Republican politicians at the state and federal level so often fall short of bearing fruit. They fail at the most basic level of politics.
Sadly, we might be seeing a few fresh examples in the legislative session which got started in Louisiana yesterday.
A handful of bills which seek to shift education funding away from its current model, in which dollars flow from state government straight into school systems, and toward a money-follows-the-child future, are set to generate gigantic fights in committee rooms and on the House and Senate floor. But those bills all fall short of the true prize.
What do we mean by this? Well, here’s what the proposed pieces of legislation would do…
They would give families access to the state’s share of annual school aid – around $5,500 per year – to help pay for private school tuition, tutoring services, supplemental materials or technological devices. That money now goes from the state to local school districts to help educate children.
“It is intended to empower parents or guardians for high-need student populations,” said state Rep. Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice and the sponsor of one of the five bills on the topic already filed for the session, which begins March 14.
DeVillier’s blll, as well as the four others, would limit the accounts to select students, including those attending troubled public schools, children with special needs, those who have been targeted for bullying and students with reading problems.
State Reps. Mark Wright, R-Covington and Rhonda Butler, R-Ville Platte, have filed proposals that would allow the accounts for special needs children.
Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, has filed an education savings account measure – House Bill 452 – that would apply to children who have been targeted for bullying.
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, wants to allow the accounts for children who are reading below grade level – Senate Bill 203.
All of this is fine, but there’s a problem. Here it is…
What you don’t want to do is inadvertently push government control of the schools further in your attempts to allow people to escape from that control, which is conclusively proven not to be effective in upholding standards.
There’s something else to this as well, which is that anytime you’re making reformist policy you’ve got to do so with an eye toward creating and bolstering your own constituencies – not doing things for people who’ll never vote for you.
The problem with the school choice initiatives the state embarked on during the Bobby Jindal years, while those were good policies which did help kids get a better education in some cases, was that they were a political giveaway with nothing in return.
Let’s understand that those school voucher plans weren’t a mere exercise in do-gooderism. They were intended as an overture to the black community in hopes of peeling votes off and creating more black Republicans. But they utterly failed to do that, and what was worse, the opposition to those initiatives came from Republican base voters.
Meaning, people who cough up astonishing sums of money to put their kids in private schools in order to get away from the hellions, wildlings and dunces they perceive the public schools to be full of.
Call those parents any names you want: selfish, racists, elitists, bigots, religious nuts, etc. It really doesn’t matter whether they’re horrible people or moms and dads fiercely defending their kids from the encroaching hood. The point is the way they see it, they pay through the nose to put those kids in great private schools with other kids from good backgrounds and they don’t want that experience, and the value coming from it, diluted with a bunch of voucher-kid refugees from the public schools.
And there is this: “why should I work my ass off to afford $15,000 per year in Junior’s tuition when the government is just going to give this kid over here a free ride at the same school Junior goes to?”
Which isn’t wrong.
The point here is that while money-follows-the-child is absolutely the way to go, it has to be done correctly.
And by correctly, we mean don’t do this on the basis of carve-outs for kids who get bullied – the practicalities of trying to figure out who the victims are and who they aren’t are nothing short of impossible – or special needs, or the voucher-denied. Do it for everybody.
Not just the public-school kids. Everybody.
Money-follows-the-child should apply to the private school kids. It should also apply to the home-school kids.
What we’re talking about is a paradigm shift in how education is funded and run. We’re talking about building one constituency and destroying another.
Provide $5,500 in funding to parents of home-schooled and private-schooled kids, and you’re now welding to the Republican Party a segment of the market which is at least 30 percent and probably closer to 35. Those people will never consider voting Democrat again in their lives, because they know the Democrats will come for that $5,500. Or at least attempt to put strings on it – like the kids will have to be taught feminist and transgender theory in order to earn that state subsidy, or something.
No strings. No limits. Everybody gets the $5,500. If you want to make sure the kids are taking a LEAP test or some sort of progress indicator, that’s one thing. Otherwise this has to be the parents’ show and the schools will now have to compete in the market this money will create.
Because if about a quarter of Louisiana’s school kids are in private schools now, when that $5,500 comes available that number will be a third in no time flat. And in a few years when more private schools spring up to service the demand, it’ll be 40 percent. Then 50.
And all of those parents will vote Republican. Every time. They can’t afford not to.
Along the way the government education monopoly, which is the number one power base of the Democrat Party, will collapse. They’ll lose too many students and too much money, and probably too many teachers – who will realize that as the money-follows-the-child future takes hold, the real opportunity is to open a small business in semi-private tutoring or microschooling or learning pod supervision, where the money is better and the stress is less. Those big concrete block facilities, which in many cases look like prisons more than places for kids to learn, will empty and they’ll have to be reimagined just like the owners of the now-vacant malls and office buildings are doing.
With devastating – awwww! – consequences to the corrupt, far-Left teacher unions and the incompetents who run our terrible school systems. Without whom there would be no Democrat Party, by the way.
You don’t get this revolution by chipping away at the power structure. And what you’ll find is that you get just as much opposition from chipping away at it as you do with a full frontal assault.
Idiots in red t-shirts will descend on the Capitol to fight Devillier’s bill, and they’ll stick around to fight Hewitt’s, Freiburg’s, Wright’s and Butler’s. The volume will be the same.
And John Bel Edwards will veto each and every one of them.
So don’t waste your time. If you want to bring money-follows-the-child, go all the way. Let the quarter of the state’s education market who have their kids in private schools and the ten percent or so who homeschool know that there’s a bill in the Legislature which would give them $5,500 in tuition and educational-expense relief, that they can to an extent avoid being a sucker who pays full price in property and sales taxes for other kids’ educations while shouldering an additional full load for their own. And let’s see what their response will be.
You might just find that you’ll be making rabid, evangelistic activists supporting the GOP and its candidates who can match or exceed what the Democrats can muster.
You might find you’ve just built a constituency, while destroying another.
That’s real, lasting change. And if you believe the free market would do a better job than a Democrat-dominated government monopoly at educating kids, you’ll have made a major improvement in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Louisiana families. Isn’t that worth fighting for?