Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why the Latest Louisiana Fight Highlights the Need for School Choice Expansion

Last week we came perilously close to losing a school voucher program for low-income kids in one of the communities that needs it most.

After the Louisiana House Appropriations Committee cut funding for the highly-successful New Orleans Scholarship Program, advocates mobilized to help save the program, culminating last Friday in an agreement that restores the program's funding.

The legislative bickering over the program's future highlights the disconnect between lawmakers and their constituents. The people recognize the program's success, even calling for school choice expansion expanding in large numbers. A poll released earlier this year by the Louisiana Federation for Children found that support for extending educational options to families across East Baton Rouge Parish is very, very strong. Seventy-two percent of voters support the idea of school choice in their community, and a significant majority goes even further—they want a voucher program in East Baton Rouge like the highly-successful one in New Orleans. Here are some of the reasons why:

And, for the second year in a row, applications for the New Orleans voucher program significantly outpaced spots available during a much-publicized sign-up period during the spring. And in the East Baton Rouge poll, fewer than two percent of survey respondents gave traditional public schools in East Baton Rouge an “A” grade, and a majority described the city's school system as “broken.” In addition, almost six in 10 think that the New Orleans program should serve more than just residents of Orleans Parish. Parents are not only engaged, but their engagement is sending a clear message: more options are needed for their children. Our elected officials need to take note.

It’s time for Louisiana legislators to own up to the promise they made to their constituents to represent their best interests. Otherwise, the same 72 percent who are demanding school choice in East Baton Rouge will be the ones electing new leaders come this November.

Politicians in the statehouse must stop pointing fingers and start implementing some commonsense solutions. The parents of these children care, and if empowered and given an active role in choosing the best educational options for their child, we can improve the situation of thousands of students across Louisiana.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

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