Every child in the United States — regardless of race, gender, disability, their family’s wealth or status in the community — can go to public school from kindergarten through 12th grade. Public education has been society’s equalizer — it gives all children the opportunity to be educated and be contributing citizens to our great country.
Louisiana’s new voucher program is diminishing public school systems’ ability to provide necessary services for all students by diverting public funds to private and parochial entities under the guise of “choice.” Future state-sanctioned “course providers” will siphon resources away from public schools with little or no accountability to local school district governance. Research shows other cities’ voucher experiments do not improve student learning and leave behind many students with disabilities.
What’s wrong with giving parents a choice of where their children go to school under the current voucher program? The private or parochial schools that accept vouchers will not be held to high standards for students’ learning nor the taxpayer dollars they spend — if at all. A lawsuit by the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA), to be heard Thursday in the 19th Judicial District Court highlights our mission that locally elected school boards should provide public schools that are open to all families and reflect each community’s needs.
Louisiana already has a system of school choice through community public schools and charter schools. These schools are held accountable under federal and state law by testing students in grades 3-8 and high school each year. These test scores are used to assign school performance scores, district performance scores and letter grades to individual schools and districts.
Public schools across the state are facing declining revenues, teacher layoffs and midyear program cuts this year. Now the Louisiana Department of Education has created a bureaucratic log-jam because of its inability to project how many students will receive vouchers, whether these students have ever attended public schools and the statev has given local districts the burden of verifying student eligibility. Further, the agency has not been transparent about how it has chosen the voucher schools, many of which subsidize religious entities.
LSBA is not defending the status quo in our public schools. But we know what works: early education, high standards in core subjects, 21st century skills and college readiness, strong interventions for students who are falling behind, parent and community engagement, and highly qualified teachers and staff.
We need our elected officials to commit to ensuring that Louisiana has the best public school system available to all of its families and the infrastructure to support it — for the sake of our children and our state.
Scott Richard, executive director,
Louisiana School Boards Association