Monday, March 19, 2012

Newspaper Editor’s Support for Vouchers in the Bayou State

How Common Sense, Research, and Pragmatism Brought this Independent Voter to Support School Choice 

There's been much talk in recent weeks about Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s plan to expand the highly successful New Orleans voucher program to students in failing schools and low-income families throughout the state.

In recent days, some of that talk has come from the executive editor of the Houma Courier and Daily Comet.  As Keith Magill says in a recent editorial, supporting the voucher program is not about being conservative or liberal; it’s about helping kids who are not receiving a quality education.  Read below for more:

I consider myself neither conservative nor liberal, though, depending on the issue, both friends and detractors have labeled me one or the other. I have never registered with any political party, and since I was old enough, I have been a part of what has since become the fastest-growing category of American voter: independent. For me, common sense, credible research and pragmatism trump partisanship and party politics.

And the more of the former I apply to Jindal's voucher plan, the more I like it. Here are some reasons:

Meaningful change is long-overdue. For generations, Louisiana's school system has ranked among the nation's worst. It's so bad that more than two-thirds of the state's public schools are rated a C or worse. Forty-four percent are rated D or F. Locally, all but four of Lafourche's 28 public schools and all but 10 of Terrebonne's 36 are rated C or lower. Only one public school in Terrebonne and none in Lafourche earned an A in the latest rankings. Louisiana cannot continue delivering its children and young adults an education that puts them at a competitive disadvantage to their peers in almost every other state, not to mention many other countries. We owe them better.

The good guys are backing it. Two nonpartisan groups I trust, the Council for a Better Louisiana and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, back Jindal's voucher plan. PAR, in particular, has done a lot of solid research on vouchers and has long advocated using them in Louisiana. Both groups express reservations about some of the details and have called for tweaks. For instance, both seek accountability and open reporting of academic performance from private schools that choose to take voucher students. That would help parents make wise choices and help state officials determine whether taxpayer money is being spent on quality education. I share those and other reservations, and I am optimistic the details will be resolved before the Legislature enacts Jindal's plan.

Students would get better education at less cost to taxpayers. Louisiana taxpayers spent an average of $10,622 to educate each public-school student in 2009-10. Terrebonne spent $9,251, Lafourche $9,994. In contrast, tuition costs about $6,100 a year at E.D. White Catholic High in Thibodaux and Vandebilt Catholic High in Houma, according to the schools' websites. If your child attends a failing public school, don't you want the option of letting that tax money follow him or her to a better one? The difference would remain with the public schools, which, at least in theory, could increase their per-pupil spending. And, if used well, that could help boost their students' achievement as well.

The status quo is immoral. “It is immoral that the quality of schooling is based on the value and location of your home,” says the Milton Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, a nonprofit established by Friedman and his late wife, Rose. “School choice gives parents the freedom to choose a school based on its quality and their child's needs, not their home address.”
This is one of the concepts behind school vouchers I find most alluring. It's morally wrong to use a student's demographic background – poor, minority, social standing – as an excuse to offer him or her a substandard education. I don't care what neighborhood or background a child comes from; if teachers and administrators are truly the professionals they profess to be, they need to come up with a way of educating every student to his or her fullest potential. Right now, that's not happening.
Vouchers, and the competition they would spur, would help force failing schools in Terrebonne, Lafourche and across Louisiana to get better or shut down. If public schools excel, none of their students will qualify for a voucher under Jindal's plan. Supporters of the status quo will find all kinds of excuses for why one public school or another is unable to achieve excellence. Haven't we heard enough excuses?

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

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