Yesterday, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White announced “tougher standards” for private schools that qualify for and accept voucher funding “were coming.” And while the media may attempt to spin this as an accountability measure that favors Superintendent White, it is, without question, the most blatant admission the voucher program he and Governor Bobby Jindal have championed is in clear violation of the Louisiana State Constitution and many of the schools approved for taxpayer funding should have never been considered.
Here’s the critical issue (bold mine):
The Louisiana Constitution requires that to get state approval, a nonpublic school must have a curriculum at least as strong as the state’s. The state, however, can’t dictate what is taught.
White said he’s considering a graduated scale for the approval process that allows larger schools that are accredited by an independent agency, such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, to receive a less stringent review. Accreditation by a panel somewhat associated with a school would not fit that category.
Section VII, Section IV:
§4. Approval of Private Schools
Section 4. Upon application by a private elementary, secondary, or proprietary school with a sustained curriculum or specialized course of study of quality at least equal to that prescribed for similar public schools, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education shall approve the private school. A certificate issued by an approved private school shall carry the same privileges as one issued by a state public school.
There is no possible way that Superintendent White or any other elected or appointed official can honestly argue that schools like New Living Word in Ruston or Cenla Christian Academy in Pineville, among others, offer a curriculum “as strong as the state’s,” regardless of the “accrediting body” upon which they may rely. Schools that offer ACE, Bob Jones University, and/or ABeka curricula are inherently, indeed purposely, not as strong or as rigorous. Considering that the vast majority of private colleges and universities in the country and the entire public university system in the State of California can, by law, reject college applicants on the basis of the strength and merits of the coursework they took in high school, many of the schools that Superintendent John White approved for taxpayer funding under Bobby Jindal’s voucher program are in violation of the Louisiana State Constitution.
It’s open and shut.
And that, I imagine, is why Superintendent White is now frantically attempting to change the standards for private schools, to make it appear to the media and the public as if he has suddenly decided to get “tougher.”
How much tougher? That is not disclosed.
Let’s face it: The entire program has been exposed as a scam, a mega-million dollar giveaway of taxpayer dollars to fly-by-night, get-rich-quick operators and struggling far-right and religiously conservative education profiteers who seek to exploit the program to change their bottom lines. Jindal’s voucher program isn’t the one that he’d like to believe he’s selling: It’s not concerned with providing working class, inner-city families the ability to take their child out of a failing school and place them into a thriving private or parochial school. Instead, the program was conceived more like a venture capitalist experiment: They’ve never been concerned with actually giving families the money for these vouchers; they’ve been far more concerned with the ways in which they can allot voucher funding to a pre-selected number of schools for a pre-selected number of spots to support and fund an entirely new creation(something which likely violates the Lemon Test of the US Supreme Court on at least three different levels).
But regardless, this, interestingly, doesn’t even touch the Establishment Clause arguments– that is, vouchers are unduly violating the separation of church and state. This is much more simple: This is about the strength of curriculum. If private schools aren’t as rigorous as public schools, then they are not entitled to public money, per the Louisiana STATE Constitution. And to be honest, though it’s an argument that seems to have snuck on them, it’s one that many of their opponents have kept in their back pockets, which explains, in part, Superintendent Whites’s response.