In May, David Sirota penned an article for Salon titled Selling out Public Schools. In it, he said that Mitt Romney, President Obama, and both of our major political parties were “assaulting public education.”
On the Republican side, the Washington Post reports Mitt Romney just unveiled “a pro-choice, pro-voucher, pro-states-rights education program that seems certain to hasten the privatization of the public education system” completely. On the other side, Wall Street titans in the Democratic Party with zero experience in education policy are marshaling tens of millions of dollars to do much of what Romney aims to do as president – and they often have a willing partner in President Barack “Race to the Top” Obama and various Democratic governors.
Funded by corporate interests who naturally despise organized labor, both sides have demonized teachers’ unions as the primary problem in education — somehow ignoring the fact that most of the best-performing public school systems in America and in the rest of the world are, in fact, unionized. (Are we never supposed to ask how, if unions are the primary problem, so many unionized schools in America and abroad do so well?) Not surprisingly, these politicians and activists insist they are driven solely by their regard for the nation’s children — and they expect us to ignore the massive amount of money their benefactors (and even the activists personally) stand to make by transforming public education into yet another private profit center. Worse, they ask us also to forget that in the last few years of aggressive “reform” (read: evisceration) of public education, the education gap has actually gotten far worse, with the most highly touted policies put in place now turning the schoolhouse into yet another catalyst of crushing inequality.
Sirota says that charter schools and vouchers are one of the five most “prominent” of these policies. I would agree. There has been an education movement afoot for a many years whose aim is less about reforming public schools and more about the privatization of public education. One of the first steps in the “reform” process is funneling public money away from traditional public schools to “privately administered” charter schools and to private schools via tuition vouchers.
A Look at the New Student Voucher Program in Louisiana
Stephanie Simon (Reuters) has reported that Louisiana is “embarking on the nation’s boldest experiment in privatizing public education.” She wrote, “Starting this fall, thousands of poor and middle-class kids will get vouchers covering the full cost of tuition at more than 120 private schools across Louisiana, including small, Bible-based church schools.” Louisiana’s voucher program, which is said to be the most sweeping in the country, will “shift tens of millions of dollars from public schools to pay not only private schools but also private businesses and private tutors to educate children across the state.”
Governor Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent of Education John White, both of whom pushed for the voucher program, “promised to hold the private schools accountable for student achievement.” Yet, it has been reported that “money will continue to flow to scores of private and religious schools participating in Louisiana’s new voucher program even if their students fail basic reading and math tests…”
Casey Michel (TPMMuckraker) reported in July that students in every public school in Louisiana are subjected to standardized testing, but “voucher students — who will bring an average of $8,000 in tuition from ‘failing’ public schools to many that are affiliated with religious denominations — will only need to face testing if their new school has taken an average of 10 students per grade, or if the schools have accepted at least 40 voucher students into the grades testing.”
Simon said that according to new rules, “schools will not be penalized for poor scores on state standardized tests if they have fewer than 40 voucher students enrolled in the upper elementary or secondary grades.” Even if their voucher students fail to “demonstrate basic competency in math, reading, science and social studies,” the private schools will continue to receive state funds. Superintendent White estimated that 75 percent of the 120 private schools participating in the voucher program would “fall into this protected category.”
Participating schools that have more than 40 voucher students will be given a “numerical grade from the state based on their voucher students’ test scores.” Schools that score less than 50 on a 150-point scale will not be allowed to enroll more voucher students. Those schools will, however, still “continue to receive public money indefinitely to serve students already enrolled.”
Opponents of the voucher program say that their biggest concern is “the fact that the students may be transferring, on the taxpayers’ dime, to a school that will score worse than the one from which they left. That is, a student can leave a public school if it scores a ‘C’ or below on state standardized testing — but if the new private school scores the minimum of 50, the equivalent of a D-minus, it could still recruit new voucher students.”
Some of those who are critical of the new voucher program have voiced concerns about accountability procedures. Donald Songy, a representative of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, questioned the provision “that a private school wouldn’t be in trouble unless it scored less than 50, whereas a public school is labeled a failure if it scores less than 65.”
Now millions of tax dollars originally earmarked for Louisiana’s public schools will go to pay for private school tuitions—even if the voucher students in those schools are not achieving academically. Does this voucher program look like it could be the solution to the problem of failing schools in Louisiana?
Regarding Education in Private and Religious Schools Participating in Louisiana’s Voucher Program
It has been reported that most of the 120 educational facilities that will participate in the voucher program are Christian schools. Should citizens of Louisiana be concerned about what is being taught in private and religious schools that their tax dollars are helping to subsidize?
In her article Louisiana’s Bold Bid to Privatize Schools, Simon told of New Living Word—a school in Ruston that is willing to accept the most voucher students—more than 300. The school has a top-ranked basketball team—but no library. Simon explained how the students spend most of their school days “watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms.” She said, “Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition.”
Simon also wrote of another school that is planning to make room for potential voucher students: “At Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, pastor-turned-principal Marie Carrier hopes to secure extra space to enroll 135 voucher students, though she now has room for just a few dozen. Her first- through eighth-grade students sit in cubicles for much of the day and move at their own pace through Christian workbooks, such as a beginning science text that explains ‘what God made’ on each of the six days of creation. They are not exposed to the theory of evolution.”
According to Simon, there are private schools in Louisiana that have been approved to receive state funds that “use social studies texts warning that liberals threaten global prosperity; Bible-based math books that don’t cover modern concepts such as set theory; and biology texts built around refuting evolution.” Many of the schools “rely on Pensacola-based A Beka Book curriculum or Bob Jones University Press textbooks to teach their pupils Bible-based ‘facts,’ such as the existence of Nessie the Loch Ness Monster and all sorts of pseudoscience…” (14 Wacky “Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools)
Here are some examples of the “historical facts” that children may learn in these religious schools in Louisiana–courtesy of The Society Pages:
• Humans and dinosaurs co-existed.
• God designed “checks and balances” to prevent environmental crises, so chill! After all, “Roses are red, violets are blue; they both grow better with more CO2.”
• “Rumors” of foreclosures, high unemployment, homelessness, and general misery during the Great Depression are just socialist propaganda.
• Unions just want to destroy the accomplishments of “hardworking Americans.”
• Mormons, Unitarians, and Catholics = bad.
• And then there’s the history of racial/ethnic relations: “God used the ‘Trail of Tears’ to bring many Indians to Christ” and “Through the Negro spiritual, slaves developed patience to wait on the Lord and discovered that the truest freedom is freedom from the bondage of sin.” No, seriously — I didn’t make those up.
Opinions on the School Voucher Program
Education expert Diane Ravitch wrote the following about the school voucher program in Louisiana:
Bear in mind that public education is level-funded, so all these millions for vouchers and charters and online schooling and tutoring will come right out of the public school budget, making classes more overcrowded, closing libraries, shutting down services for students that need them.
Ravitch also wrote about the American Legislative Exchange Council’s links to the movement to privatize public schools in the The Washington Post:
A recent article in the Newark Star-Ledger showed how closely New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “reform” legislation is modeled on ALEC’s work in education. Wherever you see states expanding vouchers, charters, and other forms of privatization, wherever you see states lowering standards for entry into the teaching profession, wherever you see states opening up new opportunities for profit-making entities, wherever you see the expansion of for-profit online charter schools, you are likely to find legislation that echoes the ALEC model.
ALEC has been leading the privatization movement for nearly 40 years, but the only thing new is the attention it is getting, and the fact that many of its ideas are now being enacted…
Charles P. Pierce wrote the following on his Esquire blog in July:
One wave of education “reform” demands almost continual high-stakes testing. Another wave of education “reform” demands that public money go to private for-profit “schools.” Now, the new wave of education “reform” demands that the high-stakes testing not count in the new for-profit “schools.” But this never has been about education. It’s been about destroying the public schools and protecting the right of people to marinate in superstition and nonsense.
What is your opinion about the movement to privatize public education? What is your opinion about public money being spent to pay student tuitions at religious schools? Do you think that some school “reformers” are out to destroy public schools in this country?
Louisiana sets rules for landmark school voucher program (MSNBC/Reuters)
Louisiana sets rules for landmark school voucher program (Chicago Tribune)
Louisiana’s Voucher Standards Called Into Question (TPMMuckraker)
Louisiana vouchers going mainly to church-affiliated schools (The Town Talk)
Vouchers and the future of public education (Washington Post)
Ravitch: A primer on the group driving school reform (Washington Post)
Some of Christie’s biggest bills match model legislation from D.C. group called ALEC (New Jersey On-Line)
A Close Look at Some Evangelical Textbooks (The Society Pages)