We talked on Tuesday about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) new statewide school voucher scheme, which gives tuition money to as many as 380,000 kids in struggling public schools, encouraging them to transfer to private schools. Jindal's program is already off to a rough start, with unanswered questions about accountability and proper use of taxpayer money.
The questions have not gone unnoticed by state officials, and we now know about state School Superintendent John White's plans to "muddy the waters."
The News-Star obtained a series of emails between White, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s spokesman Kyle Plotkin and Jindal’s policy adviser Stafford Palmieri in which White attempted to counter the growing questions about the oversight of the voucher program. The questions began after the News-Star visited the New Living Word School which has no library and filters lessons through Bible-based DVDs. The Times-Picayune also pointed out that the school would charge voucher students more than the other current students, which not allowed under the new legislation.
Saying that he was planning on “muddying up the narrative” that media had offered about the school, White’s office, shortly after the story first broke revealed that approved schools would need to undergo further vetting. This additional round of appraisal was not mentioned to the schools, which had already been approved for voucher students, prior to the initial News-Star story.
Voucher proponents work from the assumption that private schools, practically by definition, are always superior to public schools, especially public schools with low test scores. But that's clearly nonsense -- in Louisiana, the Jindal administration is prepared to use public funds to subsidize, among other things, a private school that basically shows children Bible videos all day, every day.
The state's school superintendent, uncomfortable with this scrutiny, decided the smart move would be "to talk through the process with the media, muddying up a narrative they're trying to keep black and white." In this case, the "process" apparently refers to some kind of possible scrutiny for schools participating in the program -- after being told they could participate without such scrutiny.
In other words, he apparently hoped to deliberately confuse the public, so taxpayers wouldn't notice the flaws of this rotten voucher plan.
This has always been one of the key problems voucher proponents couldn't resolve. The basic framework is easy enough to follow: (1) identify which public schools are underperforming; (2) give some of the students at those schools tuition money for private schools; (3) watch those kids' test scores improve thanks to the unproven wonders of private education; and (4) wait for the struggling public schools to get better with less money and fewer smart children.
Aside from the faulty assumptions and serious constitutional questions surrounding giving tax dollars to religious ministries, there's the basic question of accountability.
Jindal and other voucher supporters want to test public schools to identify which are the best and worst, but they don't want to test private schools. How would anyone know public funds are being well spent? They wouldn't. How would anyone know if the students are benefiting? They wouldn't know that, either.
How would anyone know the private schools have good enough teachers and a strong enough curriculum to deserve tax dollars in the first place? That'd be a mystery, too.
No standards, no accountability, no oversight. It's the mantra of voucher advocates, and it's a problem that won't go away.