Houston, we have a problem.
Yesterday, the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down the single-largest and highest-profile policy initiative ever undertaken by Governor Bobby Jindal. In a resounding 6-1 opinion, the court held that Jindal’s plan unconstitutionally violated the State Constitution by diverting funds clearly labeled and dedicated toward public schools in the Minimum Foundation Program.
From the very beginning, I recognized the fundamental flaws in Jindal’s plans, including, most notably, the ways in which he had planned to fund this initiative, almost entirely through revenue sources that were constitutionally required for public schools. Jindal’s plan, in simple terms, sought to fund his voucher program with public school money. And if you’re a cynic like me, you can’t help but recognize the political calculus at play: Removing substantial revenues from already-struggling public schools is a clear declaration of purpose. Jindal had no desire to truly help existing and struggling public schools improve. In guaranteeing their ultimate failures, Jindal hoped to better justify the marginal improvements that could be gained whenever the State began fully subsidizing voucher schools. It’s the “rob Peter to pay Paul” conundrum, and Jindal had been hoping it would work.
No question, many of Louisiana’s public schools are in bad shape, but here’s the problem: The voucher schools are even worse. A substantial portion of these voucher schools are newly-created church schools with very few credentialed teachers. Thanks to the work of Zack Kopplin and (not to brag) some of the stories I’ve reported on this site, we know that many of these voucher schools teach pseudoscience and revisionist history. Furthermore, during the last year and a half, Zack and I, along with the folks at the News Star and blogger Tom Aswell at the Louisiana Voice, have revealed the ways in which Bobby Jindal and Superintendent John White attempted to qualify anyone and everyone who sought voucher funding– a school owned and operated by a man who believed himself to be a divine Prophet of God, schools that didn’t have classrooms, schools that relied entirely on DVD instruction, schools that used textbooks suggesting the Lochness Monster is real and disproves evolution. These schools are not anomalies.
Jindal so desperately wanted to prove himself as a leader in school voucher reform, he forgot to do his homework: Like it or not, a sizable portion of Louisiana voucher schools are significantly worse than the public schools they seek to replace.
Of the top 500 public high schools in the country, five are from Louisiana: Baton Rouge Magnet in Baton Rouge, Haynes Academy in Metairie, Ben Franklin in New Orleans, Thomas Jefferson High in Jefferson, and LSMSA in Natchitoches. It may mot seem like much, but a State our size, it’s exceptional: There are twice as many public school students in Texas than residents of Louisiana.
Our public schools can and will excel, but we need a Governor who believes in them as much as they believe in themselves.