Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to fundamentally change education in his state. The Wall Street Journal compared Jindal’s school reform program to a “moon shot,” noting “it would be one giant leap for Louisiana students.” (1-31-12) Opponents of the governor’s education program — the teachers unions and the federal government — are thwarting Jindal’s vision every chance they get. Act 1 and Act 2, passed in 2012, include parental choice through the use of vouchers, the end of tenure protection for ineffective teachers, and creation of more charter schools. Charter schools may have improved New Orleans’s school landscape.
Race and Vouchers
After lower court battles, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in early 2012 that the state could not use public education funds to pay for vouchers, which allow low-income parents to send their children to private schools. Vouchers are now funded not from the state education budget but from general funds and must be pieced together each year. This leaves the voucher program with an unstable funding source.
In August the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit to stop Louisiana from awarding school choice vouchers to low-income families. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder cited concerns over desegregation. “The federal government argues that allowing students to attend independent schools under the voucher system could create a racial imbalance in public school systems protected by desegregation orders.” (Fox News, 8-25-13) Critics are baffled because 91% of the Louisiana Scholarship Program vouchers go to minority students; how can the vouchers impede racial balance when they simply provide minority parents a way to remove their children from failing schools?
Gov. Jindal says Pres. Obama and Atty. Gen. Holder are disregarding the “rights of parents to make choices for their children.” Jindal calls the lawsuit filed by the federal government that seeks an injunction to stop the vouchers “shameful.” (Fox News, 8-25-13)
During the 2012-13 school year 5,000 students were served by vouchers. Another 8,000 will be issued for 2013-14. (US News & World Report, 8-26-13) A Justice Department win would deny vouchers to more than 500 students, but would not halt the program completely because only districts under a desegregation order are affected.
No More Ineffective Teachers
Louisiana teacher unions are unhappy with Gov. Jindal’s education reforms; particularly troubling to the unions is tenure revision. Previously, teachers got lifetime tenure after three years of teaching, regardless of performance. Only under extraordinary circumstances could any tenured teacher be fired.
Under the Jindal reforms, “teachers would receive tenure only after being rated as “highly effective” for five years in a six-year period, while teachers rated as “ineffective” would lose tenure and be required to re-earn it.” (UnionWatch.org, 3-5-13)
When legislators passed the tenure reforms, teacher unions accused them and the governor of starting a “war against teachers.” Protests were held at the state capital in Baton Rouge. Four school districts were forced to close schools for a day because so many teachers attended protests.
Louisiana’s two major teachers’ unions filed lawsuits to block the reforms. They also called for a recall of Gov. Jindal, but that fizzled out from lack of support.
Although teachers unions celebrated in August when District Judge Ben Jones ruled that Governor Jindal’s Act 1 termination and appeal process violates rights of teachers, Gov. Jindal believes the judgment will be set aside. He stated, “These reforms are constitutional and will continue improving Louisiana schools for children and families across our state.” (Louisiana.gov, 8-20-13) Once the legal dust settles, there will be fewer ineffective teachers in Louisiana classrooms.
Parents and Their Children
The Louisiana Association of Educators teachers union president said during an interview on April 29th, “There isn’t anything fair about using [reforms, including charter schools] only against the public schools and then taking our children from us, and sending them where we don’t know what they’re getting.” In response to this, one National Review writer asserted that “the head of the state’s largest teachers’ union has essentially claimed that children belong to teachers’ unions as much as they do their parents.” (4-30-13)
Attempts are being made to improve education and assert parental control over students in Louisiana. Gov. Jindal is pushing against the education monopoly, on behalf of students and parents. Louisiana schools were consistently ranked amongst the worst in the nation by all criteria, including dropout rate. Some want the status quo to remain, but most Louisianans, including parents, think more must be done to enable all Louisiana children to achieve a solid education.