Champions of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s new voucher program, which uses public tax dollars to send students to private and parochial schools, say that it will empower parents with more choices for their children’s education.
Advocates of the school choice movement often say parents are better able than large bureaucracies to make good educational choices for their sons and daughters.
All that’s needed, as the theory goes, is a wider marketplace of educational options from which to choose.
At the heart of this argument lies the assumption that the average citizen is smart enough to think for himself.
If school choice is grounded in this healthy respect for the intelligence of the general public, then we must wonder why the state Department of Education doesn’t trust people enough to let them view public documents dealing with how the voucher program was implemented.
John White, the state superintendent of education and a key Jindal ally, has refused to provide records from deliberations over how schools were chosen to participate in the voucher program. The Louisiana Public Records Law, with few exceptions, requires quick public access to documents generated by state and local government.
White’s department, in refusing to release the requested documents to The Associated Press, claimed a “deliberative process privilege” cited in two court rulings that have nothing to do with education issues.
This is a specious legal argument, we believe. White’s department has extensive legal resources, funded by taxpayer dollars, to argue for the shielding of government documents from public view.
And so, thanks to the power of government bureaucracy — an institution that our conservative governor professes to dislike — the Department of Education will likely have its way on this issue.
The documents White’s department is shielding from public view could throw light on how state officials decided which schools could participate in the program.
Department of Education spokesman Barry Landry told The Associated Press the documents in question would be released in September, after voucher enrollment is set in a Sept. 1 student count.
Asked why the documents will be shielded from public view until then, Landry said, “Our concern is providing outdated information that may cause confusion to parents who are trying to make decisions around their participation in the program.”
This isn’t the first time that public officials have argued for hiding information from people for fear that it might confuse them. Here’s state Sen. Jodi Amedee, D-Gonzales, arguing in 2009 for keeping documents related to the governor’s deliberative process — the process he uses to make decisions — off-limits to the public:
“It protects the public from being confused. If you get exposed to a lot of premature ideas and thoughts, you know, they’re going to be confused.”
This kind of government-knows-best paternalism, which assumes that public officials are smarter and wiser than the taxpayer, is the very attitude that supporters of the school choice movement have promised to remedy.
If state officials want to inspire public confidence in education reform, they should treat citizens as partners, not subordinates.