Tuesday, 05 June 2012 10:19

Jindal's Louisiana education reform takes leap of faith

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Governor Jindal has achieved his goal of “reforming” Louisiana’s educational system for K-12. Looking at the long and distressing history of education in this state one can readily understand why anyone would demand reform. Louisiana presently ranks 49th in the nation.

That having been said, will the reforms enacted truly solve the problem? Or, is this a matter of change for change sake with little understanding of the true problems and an even less comprehension of the consequences of failure? Worse, what if this plan fails? Education will be destroyed in Louisiana for at least a generation.

A recent article published by Reuters entitled “Louisiana’s Bold Bid to Privatize Schools” highlights a number of issues not fully vetted by the legislature but discussed at length in this article (Suggested reading!).

First one has to consider the impact on the existing public school systems. If the Reuters column is correct and 380,000 children of 700,000 in the state school system qualify this would decimate the existing system. The state spends $8,800 per student on education. Every student who qualifies for a voucher has that amount of money deducted from the local school system when a student takes a voucher. But… private schools have no intention of taking special students. Those students with physical, medical, psychological, or behavioral problems will stay in the now underfunded systems.

As for the existing public schools, it was surprising to hear Superintendent of Education White say when hearing about the need to pay fixed costs of buildings and utilities that: “…the state is not in the business of funding buildings; it’s funding education.” (Reuters) What manner of intellectual disconnect is that? Does he assume students will be educated outdoors? The state encouraged investment in these facilities over the years, does it intend to abandon them today to bankrupt local communities.

Furthermore, private schools appear to be unwilling to accept open enrollment. That means that they intend to take only the “cream of the crop.” Indeed, that is rewarding for those who gain access, but what of the rest. What will be left for them?

One must also consider these private schools. Is there some mechanism to assure that the quality of education is superior to that offered in public schools? Certainly, that is the purpose of the reform. However some lack even basic facilities, like libraries. Who will police these schools to be certain they meet basic accreditation requirements? That they will deliver quality education? Worse, will this open the door for scam schools to open?

Should it be discovered that many of these new schools fail as well, what then? With public education destroyed, there will be nowhere else to turn.

Why would one wonder about the potential for questionable schools to proliferate? Consider the amount of money expended already in the state budget on private day care centers. Go to Louisiana LATRAC and check out this site:
Over $380 million is expended under this line item and much of it is spent on private/religious facilities. Have all of them be checked out physically or audited financially to certify if the allocated funds are spent properly. Perhaps that analysis should have been done first to provide some measure of assurance that public funds will not be misspent.

Bottom line… Governor Jindal and the state legislature have taken a profound step without carefully reviewing all of the potential problems…a leap of faith. At this stage citizens of Louisiana can only hope his gamble pays off. If it fails our children will be the victims.

by Ron Chapman

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