Stateside Louisiana: School Vouchers and the Privatization of Public Education

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro Guest Blogger

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.”

Sirota wrote:

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?

SOURCES

Both Obama and Romney are assaulting public education. Five threats, in particular, stand out (Salon)

Louisiana’s bold bid to privatize schools (Reuters)

Louisiana sets rules for landmark school voucher program (MSNBC/Reuters)

Vouching for Failure in Louisiana Schools (Esquire)

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)

Despite criticism, Louisiana OKs accountability plan for school vouchers (The Town Talk)

Vouchers and the future of public education (Washington Post)

Ravitch: A primer on the group driving school reform (Washington Post)

14 Wacky “Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools (Mother Jones)

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)

195 thoughts on “Stateside Louisiana: School Vouchers and the Privatization of Public Education

  1. “They call them neocons for a reason, they used to be on the left.”

    Now that is really funny, Bron! Everyone knows that Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and other neocons were once flaming liberals.

  2. Elaine:

    this is from Wikipedia:

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Neoconservatism

    From what I know this seems pretty on point. I didnt know Strauss was a Platonist but that makes a good deal of sense.

    So basically the same philosophical origins of the current democratic party can be found in the neocons. Which again makes a good deal of sense since there is not much difference between the 2 parties.

    Paul Ryan has rejected Ayn Rand’s philosophy on more than one occasion, he did it just recently in his interview with Brit Hume.

    He is a Catholic so he probably only likes the economics and the individualism. His other stands on issues are decidedly not Objectivist.
    And he has stated that he is a fan of Thomas Akeeness. He of the dancing angels. Ayn Rand was not an angelologist.

  3. Bron,

    From Encyclopedia Britannica
    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1075556/neoconservatism

    Excerpt:
    neoconservatism, variant of the political ideology of conservatism that combines features of traditional conservatism with political individualism and a qualified endorsement of free markets. Neoconservatism arose in the United States in the 1970s among intellectuals who shared a dislike of communism and a disdain for the counterculture of the 1960s, especially its political radicalism and its animus against authority, custom, and tradition.

    Intellectual influences

    Among their intellectual ancestors neoconservatives count the ancient Greek historian Thucydides for his unblinking realism in military matters and his skepticism toward democracy, as well as Alexis de Tocqueville, the French author of Democracy in America (1835–40), who described and analyzed both the bright and the bad sides of democracy in the United States. More recent influences include the German-born American political philosopher Leo Strauss and several of his students, such as Allan Bloom; Bloom’s student Francis Fukuyama; and a small band of intellectuals who in their youth were anti-Stalinist communists (specifically Trotskyites) before becoming liberals disillusioned with liberalism. The latter include Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, and Norman Podhoretz, among others.

    Culture and religion

    In its respect for established institutions and practices, neoconservatism resembles the traditional conservatism of the 18th-century Irish statesman Edmund Burke. Neoconservatives, however, tend to pay more attention than traditional conservatives to cultural matters and the mass media—to music, art, literature, theatre, film, and, more recently, television and the Internet—because they believe that a society defines itself and expresses its values through these means. Western (and particularly American) society, they charge, has become amoral, adrift, and degenerate. As evidence of the moral corruption of Western culture, they cite violent and sexually explicit films, television programs, and video games, and they point to popular music that is rife with obscenities that have lost their capacity to shock and disgust. Actions once regarded as shameful are now accepted as normal. For example, most people in the West now consider it perfectly acceptable for unmarried men and women to live together and even to have children. These phenomena amount to “defining deviancy down,” as the neoconservative sociologist and U.S. senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once charged.

    Such degenerate behaviour, say neoconservatives, indicates a broader and deeper cultural crisis afflicting Western civilization. The American political scientist James Q. Wilson, for example, traced the crisis to the 18th-century European Enlightenment, which encouraged people to question established authority, to criticize religion, and to reject traditional beliefs. Other neoconservatives blame the “adversarial” counterculture of the 1960s, which dismissed traditional values and religion as old-fashioned, irrelevant, or even reactionary. Whatever its source, neoconservatives maintain that this degeneration represents a real and present danger to Western civilization.

    Neoconservatives agree with religious conservatives that the current crisis is due in part to the declining influence of religion in people’s lives. People without a sense of something larger than themselves, something transcendent and eternal, are apt to turn to mindless entertainment—including drugs and alcohol—and to act selfishly and irresponsibly. Religion at its best is a kind of social cement, holding families, communities, and countries together. At its worst, however, religion can be fanatical, intolerant, and divisive, tearing communities apart instead of uniting them. Most neoconservatives thus believe that the principle of the separation of church and state, as enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is a good idea. They also believe, however, that it has been pursued to extremes by adherents of modern liberalism, who are bent on banishing religion from public life, resulting in a backlash from religious-right conservatives.

    Neoconservatives also hold that the modern liberal ideal of cultural diversity, or multiculturalism—the principle of not only tolerating but also respecting different religions and cultures and encouraging them to coexist harmoniously—tends to undermine the traditional culture of any country that tries to put it into practice. It also encourages the excesses of “political correctness”—that is, an overly acute sensitivity to offending people of other backgrounds, outlooks, and cultures. These trends, they believe, are likely to produce a conservative backlash, such as those that took place in Denmark and the Netherlands, where anti-immigrant political parties became increasingly popular in the 1990s and early 2000s.

  4. What In Creation?!: Kentucky Legislators Tout Fundamentalism, Assail Modern Science
    Aug 15, 2012 by Rob Boston in Wall of Separation
    http://au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/what-in-creation-kentucky-legislators-tout-fundamentalism-assail-modern

    Excerpt:
    The other day I wrote about the ongoing disgrace of the Louisiana school voucher program, which – among other bad outcomes – will soon be pouring millions in taxpayer funds into the coffers of fundamentalist Christian schools, some of which teach that dinosaurs might still be alive and the Great Depression wasn’t so bad after all.

    I have sometimes opined that Louisiana may be just about the worst state in the country when it comes to public education and church-state separation. But I may have to apologize to the residents of the Pelican State: The Commonwealth of Kentucky has decided to give Louisiana a run for that dubious title.

    On Aug. 13, the Kentucky legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education held a hearing. It was a very sorry affair indeed.

    Four years ago, Kentucky legislators voted to tie the state’s testing program to national education standards, reported the Lexington Herald-Leader. But now some of them are having second thoughts because the national science standards stress (gasp!) evolution.

    “I would hope that creationism is presented as a theory in the classroom, in a science classroom, alongside evolution,” Sen. David Givens (R-Greensburg) told the newspaper.

    I wouldn’t hope that if I were you, senator. Any public schools in Kentucky caught doing that are going to be sued. Your friends in Louisiana tried that tactic back in the 1980s and lost at the U.S. Supreme Court.

    And, oh, senator, you might have heard of a case Americans United co-litigated against the Dover, Pa., school district when board members decided to teach “intelligent design,” a gussied-up variant of creationism. The school lost that one, too – and ended up paying hefty legal fees.

    Givens at least pretends to want “balanced treatment.” His colleague, Rep. Ben Waide (R-Madisonville), decided to go one better. He seems to want to kick out evolution all together.

    “The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science – Darwin made it up,” Waide said. “My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny.”

    (In case you’re wondering, Waide is not a biologist, an anthropologist or a scientist of any kind. He is a physical therapist with a bachelor’s degree in health science.)

    Some Kentucky residents are bravely trying to stanch the gushing torrent of ignorance pouring out of their legislature.

    Asked to comment on the matter, Vincent Cassone, chairman of the University of Kentucky’s Biology Department, told the Herald-Leader, “The theory of evolution is the fundamental backbone of all biological research. There is more evidence for evolution than there is for the theory of gravity, than the idea that things are made up of atoms, or Einstein’s theory of relativity. It is the finest scientific theory ever devised.”

    Givens and Waide might want to spend some time at Casson’s university. If they did that, they would quickly learn that top-flight public universities don’t bother to give “balanced treatment” to science and fundamentalist religion masquerading as science. They teach what the evidence shows to be factual: evolution.

    Kentucky legislators have a choice. They can instruct the state’s public schools to acknowledge this reality and retain evolution in the science standards, or they can continue down the path of constitutional disaster and scientific illiteracy. They can support sound science or continue throwing tax money at creationist “Ark Parks” and ensuring that the commonwealth’s young people are left behind in a technology-based world economy.

    What’s it going to be, Kentucky?

  5. These are funds being robbed from a failing public school system in dire need of money. As a resident of LA I am appalled that my tax dollars will be poured into these tax-exempt institutions. Am I wrong in thinking this new law should at the very least be amended to tax these sheep factories??  How is it not a violation of Separation of Church and State to funnel federal funds into religious institutions??

    It is reassuring to know other state leaders stand up for their personal religious beliefs*sarcasm*… Kenneth Harvey…”I won’t go back to home and explain to my people that I supported this [program that] will fund Islamic teaching.” this from the Republican LA State Representative who actively advocated the law before learning an Islamic school(which has since voluntarily withdrawn from participation) had been approved. It’s not just Republicans want a cookie-cutter image of which faith-based schools should be approved. Democratic Representative Sam Jones vagrantly voiced his opposition allowing a wide variety of faith-based private schools approval by saying “It’ll be the Church of Scientology next year”. These comments only prove that our state government is only willing to overlook the funding of religion if that religion is comparable to their collective own. 

    I will not remain silent when my children are being robbed of a quality education on my dime. We allegedly live in a democratic society for the people and by the people. Let’s make the system a slave to us for once!

    Visit
     http://www.change.org/petitions/the-governor-of-la-halt-the-implementation-of-louisiana-s-creationist-voucher-program#
    And sign the petition to help end government funded religious indoctrination of our children.

  6. Each e-mail should have an Unsubscribe link at the bottom.

    After you try that with this comment, post again, then I’ll post again to see if it worked.

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