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?


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. Bron,

    I don’t care what he said. He’s a pol. He’ll say whatever gets him elected and sucking up to an atheist philosophically was antithetical to those ends. I look at his actions. Also, if you don’t think Neocon are greedy selfish oligarchical swine? You aren’t paying attention. They are all that and war mongers and nationalists to boot. Also, they are not called Neocons because they “used to be on the left”. They are called Neocons because they adopted traditional conservatism blended with nationalism and militarist interventionist policies in response to the Cold War, their rejection of LBJ’s social programs and their rejection of the compromises required to make coalition politics work (and in this they are at the roots of the extremist political polarization you see in modern American politics). Neo = new. New Conservatives. They are their own creature that has nothing to do with the left other than they splintered off from the left to move right nearly 60 years ago.

  2. Gene H:

    he said a year or so ago that he prefers Thomist epistemology to Objectivist epistemology. You cannot be anymore clear than that in the rejection of a philosophy.

    His budget is just going over the cliff at a slower rate.

    Neocons are not selfish and greedy, they are big government types. They call them neocons for a reason, they used to be on the left.

  3. Bron,

    As to the Neocon/Objectivism question? They are both philosophies of selfishness and greed, so much so that any cognitive dissonance created between the two systems can easily be rationalized away.

  4. Bron,

    Really? Then why does his budget read like she wrote it? Just because he retracted his former espousal of her views two years ago doesn’t mean they don’t color everything he does. Ryan was a died-in-the-wool true believer and yet you’d except us to take a pol at his word that he is no longer? I’ll make that call based on his actions instead of his words, thank you.

  5. Ayn Rand vs. the pope
    The two contradictory philosophies warring for Paul Ryan’s soul
    By Matthew Harwood

    Much has already been made of Rep. Paul Ryan’s libertarian pretensions and his failure to live up to them from across the ideological spectrum (here, here, here). Yet there’s a more disturbing inconsistency that deserves more scrutiny regardless of where you find yourself on the ideological or theological spectrum. The newly christened vice-presidential nominee holds two deeply contradictory and inimical materialist and spiritual worldviews represented by the objectivist philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand and the Catholic Church.

    This naturally begs the question of how a devout Catholic can follow the social justice theology of the church yet also idolize an atheist that preached the “virtue of selfishness.” Somehow in Paul Ryan’s mind, Jesus Christ and Ayn Rand are complementary figures, not warring factions in defining how an individual should lead a moral life.

    This leads to a man with dual and mutually exclusive allegiances. Not only is the Catholic Church historically an authoritarian institution par excellence, it is also one intimately concerned with social justice, arguing that state intervention is necessary to blunt the sharp edges of unbridled capitalism. For instance, in his 1961 encyclical “Christianity and Social Progress,” Pope John XXIII called attention to and excoriated economic inequality in a voice very similar to Occupy Wall Street today.

    Nevertheless, in some of these lands the enormous wealth, the unbridled luxury, of the privileged few stands in violent, offensive contrast to the utter poverty of the vast majority. In some parts of the world men are being subjected to inhuman privations so that the output of the national economy can be increased at a rate of acceleration beyond what would be possible if regard were had to social justice and equity. And in other countries a notable percentage of income is absorbed in building up an ill-conceived national prestige, and vast sums are spent on armaments.

    Within the encyclical, Pope John XXIII even goes so far as to argue for a living wage, something that would make Ayn Rand’s corpse spin. Such “common good” concepts, such as the living wage, were collectivist nonsense to Rand, a ruse used to make tyranny justifiable. And Rand was nothing if not virulently anti-Catholic because of the church’s tendency to lump all humanity together in the bonds of forced altruism and fellowship. One passage from her novella “Anthem” should be especially uneasy reading for any devout Catholic such as Ryan:

    I am done with the monster of “We,” the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame.

    And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: “I.”

    Rand’s militant atheism has since led Ryan to distance himself from his former intellectual idol. Speaking to the National Review last April, Ryan said, “I reject her philosophy. It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas.”

    Yet this is the same man who gives copies of “Atlas Shrugged” as Christmas presents and once told the Atlas Society in 2005:

    But if we’re going to actually win [the fight between individualism and collectivism] we need to make sure that we’re solid on premises, that our principles are well-defended, and if we want to go and articulately defend these principles and what they mean to our society, what they mean for the trends that we set internationally, we have to go back to Ayn Rand. Because there is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works.

    Four years later, Ryan’s brother said, “Paul can still quote every verse out of Ayn Rand.”

    It isn’t cynical to ask whether Ryan, seeing his career trajectory in ascendancy, chose to not alienate his socially conservative Christian base by repudiating a marginal philosophy he repeatedly touted in the past. But by doing so, he calls into question his intellectual honesty, particularly since his new intellectual role model, Thomas Aquinas, had a habit of writing collectivist things too: “Man should not consider his material possession his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need.”

  6. Vouchers get dose of religion
    by Melinda Deslatte
    The Associated Press
    August 03, 2012

    Taxpayer dollars in Louisiana’s new voucher program will be paying to send children to schools that teach creationism and reject evolution, promoting a religious doctrine that challenges the lessons central to public school science classrooms.

    Several religious schools that will be educating taxpayer-subsidized students tout their creationist views. Some schools question whether the universe is more than a few thousand years old, openly defying reams of scientific evidence to the contrary.

    Critics say it’s inappropriate to spend public money on such religious teaching, arguing such programs undercut a strong science education and threaten the adequate preparation of students for college science courses.

    “What they’re going to be getting financed with public money is phony science. They’re going to be getting religion instead of science,” said Barbara Forrest, a founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science and a philosophy professor who has written about the clashes between religion and science.

    Superintendent of Education John White says annual science tests required of all voucher students in the third through 11th grades will determine if children are getting the appropriate science education in the private school classrooms.

    “If students are failing the test, we’re going to intervene, and the test measures evolution,” White said.

    Refusal to teach evolution or challenging it as refutable won’t get a school booted from the voucher program, which was pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal as a way to improve educational opportunities for students in schools ranked with a C, D or F in the public school grading system.

    For example, a handbook for Ascension Christian High School, posted online, declares among the goals of “Household of Faith Schools” that “the learner will be expected to defend creationism through evidence presented by the Bible versus traditional scientific theory.”

    Ten voucher students have been assigned to Ascension Christian, along with another 41 voucher students for another Household of Faith school, Faith Academy. The schools, located in Ascension Parish, are set to receive more than $250,000 from the state.

    A biology teacher at Northlake Christian High School, a St. Tammany Parish school slated to teach 18 voucher students this school year, outlines his curriculum on a website that talks of giving students the opportunity to challenge evolution against “a creation worldview of life origins.”

    The website contradicts fossil evidence of millions of years of life on the planet, calling it incompatible with the Bible. Meanwhile, the school’s doctrinal statement says Northlake Christian, which will get $375,000 in state-funded tuition payments for its high school and elementary school, promotes “the creation of man by the direct act of God.”

  7. 8 Reasons The Ryan-Romney Combo Is Bad For Our Children’s Future
    by Judy Molland
    August 11, 2012

    By now you know that Mitt Romney has selected Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice presidential pick.

    That’s the same Paul Ryan who has proposed a budget that would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system costing seniors thousands in out-of-pocket expenses, while at the same time awarding huge tax cuts to billionaires.

    Democrats wasted little time in responding:

    “Like Mitt Romney, Ryan’s severely conservative positions are out of touch with most Americans’ values,” the Obama campaign said. “He would take us backward on women’s health and equal rights.”

    Unsurprisingly, Ryan’s vision and his unflagging commitment to catering to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans at the expense of the remaining 98 percent also extends to education and children’s rights.

    Here are eight of Ryan’s approaches to education:

    * Early Childhood Education: As chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan was the architect of a budget proposing to cut $1.1 billion from early childhood education, which would deny more than 2 million poor children the opportunity for high-quality early education.

    * K-12 Education: During his 13 years in Congress, Ryan has repeatedly supported cuts to education funding, including blocking support intended to help avoid educator layoffs and prevent ballooning class sizes. In fact, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the budget could have “disastrous consequences for America’s children.”

    * Title 1 And Special Education: Back in March, Duncan told the House Appropriations panel that oversees education spending that the Ryan budget could cut Title I grants to districts, which right now total $14.5 billion, by as much as $2.7 billion, while special education could be cut by as much as $2.2 billion. Special education state grants are currently funded at $11.6 billion.

    * Pell Grants: Ryan has voted repeatedly against increasing Pell Grants, which provide need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain post-baccalaureate students to promote access to post-secondary education.

    * School Vouchers: The Wisconsin representative has also cast votes during his seven terms in the House that show, among other things, support for school vouchers. His running mate, Mitt Romney, has called for a more expansive policy of school vouchers, which give public money to families to attend private and religious schools.

    * For-profit Colleges: Ryan has often shown his support for for-profit colleges, and earlier this year he voted for a measure that sought to stop the Education Department from implementing regulations intended to stop deceptive marketing by for-profit colleges, the focus of a 2010 Government Accountability Office investigation.

    * Teachers: Paul Ryan voted against the conference report of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which included billions of dollars to help prevent widespread teacher layoffs and included $1 billion to support the early childhood program Head Start.

    * Class Size: Along with Governor Romney, Ryan apparently believes that class size does not matter.

    By selecting Ryan, Romney has found a natural ally in his plan to destroy the foundations of American education and turn our children’s schooling over to the private sector. Or, as Romney himself put it, “Opportunity in America means people get as much education as they can afford.”

    What do you think?

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  8. “Yeah. Let’s use improperly trained babysitters instead of special needs certified instructors! Those ‘tards are as Gawd made them and if they were truly special Jesus would have told them to get their act together and run for office! Like me.” – Some Wisconsin Randian Neocon Clown

    What could possibly go wrong with that plan.

  9. This is the type of voucher law that Republicans have been trying to pass in the state of Wisconsin.

    Wis. Republicans and ALEC Push Vouchers on Disabled Kids
    By Ruth Conniff, February 21, 2012

    It’s crunch time on school vouchers for disabled kids in Wisconsin.

    Last summer, I wrote about how Republicans and school choice groups are targeting kids in special ed.

    A particularly noxious piece of “school reform” legislation, drafted by ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) and pushed by Republicans in statehouses around the country, would get unsophisticated parents to swap their kids’ federally protected right to a free, appropriate public education for school vouchers of highly dubious value to the kids.

    How dubious? An expose in the Miami New Times tracked the fly-by-night academies housed in strip malls where special ed kids with vouchers wasted hours crammed into makeshift classrooms with bored, untrained, and sometimes abusive teachers.

    But there is good news: In Wisconsin, a prime target for the privatizers who would like to dismantle our public education system, the special ed voucher law has been stalled.

    The reason: Moderate Republicans have not been willing to go along with it, among a handful of Governor Scott Walker’s other anti-public-school reforms.

    Ever since the summer recall elections, which narrowed the Republican majority in the state senate to one, some of the worst education plans have been shelved—at least temporarily.


    School Vouchers’ Empty Promise to Special Ed. Students
    By Robert McNeely and Tim Walker
    May 23, 2012

    The pro-voucher movement has found a growing target audience: special education students. At least seven states now have programs that provide public funding for special-needs populations to attend private schools and additional states have been considering similar programs.

    Lacking any proper accountability and oversight, these programs strip legal protections for parents and their children.

    “Vouchers for students with special needs may force parents to waive federally protected rights in exchange for promises that often go unfulfilled, and services provided by non-certified staff in private schools,” explains NEA Special Education Specialist John Riley.

    That means they no longer have a right to a “free, appropriate public education” or the specific services that come along with that as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The basic premise of IDEA is that all children with disabilities have a federally protected civil right to a free and appropriate public education that meets their specific needs in the least restrictive environment.

    That didn’t stop lawmakers in Wisconsin recently from pushing a bill that would have taken up to $300 million away from public schools – already slammed by deep budget cuts – to pay for private school tuition. The Wisconsin Education Association Council denounced the bill, calling it a “privatization voucher scheme devoid of oversight and accountability [that would] result in a loss of protection under the law for parents and their children.”

    Rep. Sony Pope-Roberts called the bill “the worst piece of legislation I have ever seen.”

    Testifying before the Wisconsin state senate, special education teacher Paul Zajichek pointed out that the bill contained no mandates that would ensure that each child be taught by a certified special education teacher.

    “If there is any group of kids that need certified teachers educating them, it is this group of kids,” Zajichek said. “Unfortunately, many teachers in private schools will not have to undergo the same type of rigorous academic training that I had to. It is not only unfair to me, but it is also completely unfair to the students.”

    The voucher bill passed the state Assembly but stalled in the Senate in March.

  10. I’m for a blended economy. We prefer a nice Danish or an apple fritter. Not quite pie, but not quite cake.

  11. That’s right. Elaine. My husband’s grandfather was a real communist in Russia…. seriously.

  12. FYI: We socialists don’t eat no stinkin’ donuts–the food of capitalist swine. We like blinis and wash them down with vodka.

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