Bobby Jindal’s Greatest Success Is An Epic Disaster

He talks about it everywhere he goes: On the campaign trail in Virginia, in fundraisers in Florida, California, South Carolina, Arizona, New Hampshire, Iowa, Missouri, and Michigan, or on Politico and Fox News. Governor Jindal wants Americans to know that his expansion of Louisiana’s school voucher program, the largest of its kind in our nation’s history, has been a huge success. Last month, in response to the Department of Justice’s litigation requiring Louisiana’s voucher program to properly ensure adherence to long-standing federal court orders on desegregation, Governor Jindal feigned outrage and implied, in not so many words, that Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama didn’t care about providing a quality education for young, impoverished minorities.

To be fair, though, Holder was only asking for documentation that Governor Jindal and his Department had been repeatedly refusing to furnish. Jindal has been so preoccupied by his own campaign for national relevancy that he seemed to forget: His real job, the job he was elected to do, requires paperwork sometimes. His negligence and dereliction resulted in a federal lawsuit, because in order to demonstrate compliance with federal laws, you need more than hyperbolic, made-for-TV political talking points accusing the first African-American President and the first African-American Attorney General of not caring about black children; you need documentation to prove that you’re complying with the law.

Governor Jindal publicly invited President Obama to take a tour of “a” voucher school. “Jindal to Obama: Come See the Successful Voucher Program You’re Trying to Kill,” World Magazine‘s headline read. Congressman Eric Cantor, however, took Jindal up on the offer. On March 8th, he toured St. Mary’s Academy, a voucher school, in New Orleans.

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Eric Cantor at St. Mary’s Academy in New Orleans. Credit: The Times-Picayune

It is a shame that President Obama didn’t join Representative Cantor on his tour, because if he had, he would have discovered that St. Mary’s Academy is a failing school, having received a 47.6 on a scale of 150. Any school that scores under 50 is given an F. St. Mary’s, the school touted by Bobby Jindal and Eric Cantor as a prime example of the success of vouchers, is an F-rated school.

But that’s not all.

According to a report published yesterday by The Times-Picayune and a white paper released by the Louisiana Department of Education, nearly half of all voucher students in Louisiana attend schools with a grade of a D or an F, as evaluated by the State’s own methodology. Unfortunately, this appears to be only the tip of the iceberg. 80% of voucher schools are not even subjected to academic accountability because they either accept fewer than ten vouchers per class or fewer than forty vouchers for the entire school.

Quoting from The Times-Picayune (bold mine):  

The full impact of the program cannot be assessed, however, because the state released scores only for one-fifth of the 118 schools in the program. The schools for which data was provided served 2,888 of the nearly 5,000 students who used vouchers last year. 

The limited data raises questions about how the high-profile program can be held accountable to taxpayers. Voucher schools are only lightly vetted on the front end, with state Superintendent John White promising in 2012 that he would hold schools accountable based on academic results. The average voucher costs $5,245, meaning possibly $11 million in state dollars went to schools with no publicly released accountability score.

This is an unmitigated disaster, and to those who have been paying attention, it should come as no real surprise. However, that doesn’t make these failures any less shameful.

In its report, perhaps in a desperate attempt to provide the public with at least something positive, the Louisiana Department of Education published the results of a push-poll conducted by an out-of-state, “non-profit” lobbying group, the Black Alliance for Educational Opportunities, in order to advance the notion that the majority of parents who receive vouchers are “satisfied.” There are a few things wrong and troubling here: First, was this poll commissioned by the State of Louisiana or a lobbying group? Second, assuming BAEO paid for the poll, how were they able to accurately survey participating parents? There are federal laws that prevent the State of Louisiana from providing a student’s or a parent’s personal contact information to an outside organization. So, third, assuming BAEO did not improperly or illegally access the personal information of students and families, then there’s only one possible explanation: They just polled their own members.

I’m sure this was by pure coincidence, but would you believe, the day Eric Cantor showed up at St. Mary’s Academy, the folks from the Black Alliance for Educational Opportunities just happened to be there as well? Obviously, they take their responsibilities as objective pollsters very seriously.

Eric Cantor and members of the Black Alliance for Educational Opportunities
Eric Cantor and members of the Black Alliance for Educational Opportunities, including Eric Lewis (far right), the Director of LABAEO who currently owes $3,000 to the State Ethics Administration in fines.

Finally, it is also worth noting: Superintendent John “White noted that the Fordham Institute, a major national player in the ‘school choice’ movement that advocates charters and vouchers, has repeatedly praised Louisiana’s voucher accountability system.”

I’m not implying any nefarious conspiracy here; just pointing out the facts. John White references two articles published on the Fordham Institute’s “Education Gadfly.” I know it’s a small world after all, but at the very least, it’s awesomely coincidental that the former editor of the “Education Gadfly” is a woman named Stafford Palmieri. Today, Stafford Palmieri is Policy Director for none other than Governor Bobby Jindal.