My View: Louisiana voucher students don’t need to be kicked off school choice lifeboat
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, seen here, has created a school voucher program that is one of the largest in the U.S. It was recently ruled unconstitutional by a state judge.
December 7th, 2012
04:32 AM ET

My View: Louisiana voucher students don’t need to be kicked off school choice lifeboat

Courtesy The Friedman FoundationBy Robert Enlow, Special to CNN

Editor’s note:  Robert Enlow is president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the legacy foundation of Nobel laureate and school choice founder Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose.

If you follow the logic of America’s teachers unions – and particularly those in Louisiana – it’s better for all children to get a lousy education than for some to get the chance to escape to a better school using a voucher.

Such were the absurd arguments recently before District Judge Timothy Kelley, who erred in ruling that Louisiana’s school voucher program violated the state’s Constitution by using education dollars from the state’s funding formula. The program, which started this fall, gives 4,900 pupils a seat in private or parochial schools.

But children shouldn’t be victims of funding formulas or arguments about how many get a place on a lifeboat when the educational Titanic is sinking. About 72% of the state’s public schools are rated C, D or F, according to the Louisiana Department of Education. For those who earn a diploma and enter college, 34% of college freshmen needed remediation in 2010.

Unions may claim that they embrace education reform, but their actions show that they are more concerned about perpetual funding of the education bureaucracy that results in too many children dropping out, becoming unemployed or going on government assistance programs. When unions or school boards feel threatened by school choice, they throw children under the bus. And in Louisiana last week, 4,900 children certainly were the victims of adults putting their interests before children.

Parents throughout Louisiana, however, know that a school voucher program is not about taking money away from public schools but about giving money to a child who needs to get the best education possible. The architect of school choice, Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, said vouchers create a system whereby education dollars are put behind the child instead of behind buildings and bureaucracies. With school choice, children and their parents come first as they get to use dedicated funding to choose the school that fits their learning style.

In Louisiana, unions and school administrators should embrace the competition instead of trying to stifle parents’ freedom to choose an option other than the school assigned to their child because of their address. In places such as Florida, longstanding voucher programs have helped spawn improvement in local public schools, which, wouldn’t you know it, persuaded parents not to leave.

Today, 4,900 parents Louisiana parents live in fear because they don’t know the legal outcome of this court challenge headed directly to the state’s Supreme Court. They have no idea whether their sons and daughters will remain in their new schools next year. But what they do know is, they have experienced great joy in a few short months as their children have fled failure and embraced not only positive academic outcomes but in many cases environments that support students’ self-esteem and reinforce their desire to learn.

Falesha Augustus of East Baton Rouge is one of those parents who saw a profound change in her 10-year-old son, Willie. She says he is no longer bullied in school and actually likes attending his local Christian school.

Augustus said Willie did not learn “fundamentals” at his neighborhood public schools and, as a result, was held back a year, now making him the largest boy in his class. “Those schools failed my child,” she said with anger in her voice.

No judge should push Willie or any other child off a lifeboat and back into a sea of failure because their parents can’t afford to move to a better neighborhood or pay for private school. Today’s funding formulas are antiquated ideas of the past. It’s time to put resources in the hands of parents to ensure children get the best education possible.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert Enlow.

Filed under: School choice • Voices • vouchers
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. laststonecarver

    Is this discourse really about robot factories?
    How can the robots be programmed to optimal efficiency, and to perform the desired performance?
    Many of the factories are old and rusted and not producing quality products.
    Some of the factories are bright and shiny, these will surely produce the desired effects.
    But wait, this is really about children, now i remember.
    Our future Geniuses and Criminals, who i am pretty sure will get there because of how their decision making process directs them, regardless of School. Who will guide the decision making process? Stay tuned.

    December 13, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  2. Yolanda

    I find it interesting that the blame for students not doing well is always the teachers or the failing schools. I must agree as a teacher we have to work with what we get. We have parents that don't do their job, and it is then put off on us to the job. Policitians need to stay out of trying to run the schools. Many of them have not been in a school unless it was for a photo opt. Public schools are not all bad. We need to hold the parents more accountable for their lack of action(s).

    December 12, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  3. fridaynightgirl

    It absolutely astounds me how easy it is to demonize teachers and schools for "failing" children. Why is there no reasonable discussion about the ever-present state and federal PIT BULL called "accountability" sitting on the desks of every teacher and school administrator in every public school/district in this country? Private/Parochial/Charter schools are not BETTER at serving children; they are EXEMPT from the JOKE that is the accountability system in this country. They are free to teach whatever and however THEY choose; as fits the students in their care. Schools were doing just fine until somebody got it in their heads to "reform" by setting "standards." All that has EVER been accomplished by standards is to lower the bar. It's all too easy to throw the rocks at the school house or, worse, the individual teachers (who bleed for these kids); rather than the politicians and "experts" who set the policies and tie all of those little nooses around the necks of public educators. Public Education isn't failing children, WASHINGTON, D.C. is.

    December 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  4. hmmm

    When I create videos of concepts, or link to previously created videos by others, and can see who has logged in to view them and typically less than 10% of students use, why am I to blame as a teacher? When the response I get from parents is, "yeah, I cant get them to stay after for help" why am I to blame? Students dont perform take away govt money and tax deductions. Guarantee youll see improved performance.

    December 10, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • hmmm

      Take away $$$ and tax deductions from the parents.

      December 10, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
      • DFRose

        So you're solution to help parents is to take away aid money. Making the poorer poorer is not progress

        December 12, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  5. hmmm

    When I call/email and beg students/parents to stay after school to improve their grades, learn important concepts, etc and about 5% of those contacts show up why is it my, the teacher's, fault? Please discuss.

    December 10, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  6. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Every time I hear about these school choice vouchers, I am of two minds. I was educated in both parochial and public elementary schools, and went to a parochial high school. We did not have the benefit of "school choice vouchers" back in the 60s and early 70s – my parents had to pay tuition for the parochial schools. My parents still had to pay taxes that covered the public schools, and this was the right thing to do, because those kids did not deserve to have funds that should have gone to them taken away.
    Today, we send our daughter to public school, after she had gone to a private Kindergarten program. While our town is not as well endowed as some others, I believe the education she is receiving is excellent. The problem is some people, ok, I'll be straightforward. That should read some Conservatives do not want their children exposed to others they find "different" and instead want their children to attend a school that fosters a limited mindset on how to approach problems. That is fine. Except, like my parents, they should do so on their own bucks, not at the expense of the public schools. If these private schools really want to cater to children whose parents cannot afford to pay, then get some rich alumni to endow a scholarship fund based on need.

    December 10, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • A.M

      Hmmmmm.... Here's a slightly DIFFERENT perspective – perhaps some of us don't want our kid in an environment a wash in drugs and disrespect for ...well... EVERYTHING. Sorry, you might call it 'diversity' when half the class room is either pregnate, on drugs, street thug wanna be's or just plan old violent, but some of us want something better for our kids. Furthermore, yes I DO say the teachers unions are GREEDY and looking out for #1 – school vouchers would force the public schools to have to -gasp- COMPETE.... I know what a horrible concept... unions FORCED to produce results! Meanwhile the unions are holding our kids hostage by opposing school vouchers so they can line their pockets! Parents of ALL economic levels should be allowed to take THEIR tax $ for schools and spend it where THEY think their kid would benefit most NOT where some union dictator tells them they MUST send their kid!

      December 10, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Steve-Illinois

      So the failing public schools are fine, and nothing needs to be done to improve the education of kids, because anyone who thinks something should be done is a bigot.

      Got it.

      December 10, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  7. michaelwg

    Cut taxes, demonize teachers, tell your kids that colleges are liberal factories, hero worship non-intellectuals, and then expect your kids to do well in school. Time to educate the adults first...

    December 9, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • fog

      It's time that more parents actually care what happens to their kids at school. How many of these drop outs or children failing have parents that could tell you what classes their kids were in let alone the teachers name and their grades. I work in a school district and it always amazes me how many parents of upper and middle class also don't concern themselves with homework and their kids grades. This is not just a problem among the poor. I can see why parents would want vouchers when they live in failing states. I can also see why they can be a problem for public schools.

      December 9, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
      • yup

        There's a flip side to that. You can be an interested parent and try to do the right thing and the teachers work against you too. I couldn't get a syllabus out of my son's teacher. I went to talk to her about his performance and left convinced that the school/teacher is the problem, not the kid. Very hit or miss...just between individual teachers. I would say miss on most of the ones that I met.

        December 9, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Steve-Illinois

      It is time to educate the adults first. Educate them on how poorly the public schools are doing educating their kids! Time is long past to quit making excuses for the dismal results provided by the most expensive public school system in the world, and demand reforms.

      December 10, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  8. TexMan

    Get real. This is all about whether someone with a lot of money can get a tax credit for segregationist actions. Fix the problem. Do not avoid it and perpetuate and perpetuate it with vouchers for the rich.

    December 9, 2012 at 5:32 am |
    • DMG2FUN

      "segregationist actions"
      So just because you cannot afford something. People that pay for it must be forced to mingle with you.

      December 9, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Tom

      You must be another obama supporter with disdain for anyone who has achieved success through hard work and sacrifice, and then expects them to support you because you chose to be an underachiever.

      December 10, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • ramblingsonhowiseeit

      Thank you,
      I have my son enrolled in a private school and I work hard at making sure I can afford to send him there. I do not want my son's school inundated with a lot of trash from the public school sector. Just because you choose to not work as hard or go to school as long as I did doesn't mean that you also should get the same benefits as I have. I am so tierd of these lazy people with their hand out expecting to have my hard earned tax dollars pay for thier housing, thier food, theri medical and Now I have to help put their child into my sons school. Heck NO!! The reason I have my son in a private school is so he can receive a good education without having to deal with public school trash. Pay Your Own Way.

      December 10, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • A.M

      No YOU get real... This is all about the union trying to keep their monopoly on OUR $. The teachers union is about the greediest group I have ever seen and their MAIN concern is keeping power – not helping the kids. All I hear about is how everything would be WONDERFUL if ONLY they got more $ and if the kids are failing it's ALL the parents fault. Tell me this if $ makes all the difference why is it the VAST MAJORITY of private schools spend far less per pupil than the public school and yet their kids usually out perform the public school students? Gee, could it be becuase teachers AND students are held accountable for RESULTS unlike the status quo in the public system?

      December 10, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • ramblingsonhowiseeit

      Get Real, I pay over 40,000 dollars a year so my son can go to a school that has a very high acedemic record and high Moral standards both for the Students, parents and teachers. The 1,500 hundred dollar school voucher is absolutely nothing and I am agianst them. I do not need children from the public sector polluting my Son.

      December 10, 2012 at 11:47 am |
      • Steve-Illinois

        If you think the $1500 voucher will get some "public school" kid into your son's school, which you supposedly pay $40,000/yr for, you are either dense or a su ck er.

        December 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  9. josefbh

    This argument is so incredibly complex is it deserves far, far more thought and rational thinking than has been done. It is so, so difficult to compare public with private schools or charter schools. Public schools have to accept all that come through the door, no cherry picking. They have to accept all children with all of their emotional baggage and we have, never, ever equipped our schools to properly manage this. Our children are used as political footballs and discarded as chaff at whim of politicians. The intertwining issues are vastly complex and no forum such as this could even begin to do justice to them and I have never seen the political will anyplace to do anything about it. We spend more time laying blame than thoughtfully and honestly exploring the problems and how solutions might be derived. Hey, I would be all for some serious research here. For starters, here's an idea, let's totally fund some town in the USA so it can go full charter for every last student and let's also fund some demographically similar town to provide full public education to the hilt so all the needs of the children can be attended to and have a look at the results. I want to see a charter system take on the total full range of all students, every last one of the them like public schools need to and lets compare the results. We need to get serious about this and stop kicking children around.

    December 9, 2012 at 5:31 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

      "Incredibly complex?"
      Keep it simple–rather, return to elegant simplicity.
      When our public schools functioned–two Fulbright scholars in my 1956 high-school class of thirty–we knew that some of us might not receive a diploma. A girl two years older than I became pregnant and dropped out of school, and several boys ended their education after the seventh grade to work on their farms.
      A doctorate from many of today's colleges and universities signifies very little education beyond the ability to spell "Doctor."

      December 9, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • yup

      i agree. catch this stuff early before the prison industrial complex or military industrial complex gets them. still have to watch out for the banksters though. student loan debt will make slaves out of the ones that try to be good.

      December 9, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
      • yup

        again, we have to watch out for the privatize everything people. they will wreck everything with blind eyes and this country has a long history of figuring it out about 45 years too late (after they made enough money on it...end of product life). that doesn't work either.

        December 9, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
      • yup

        health care is trying to move into the schools. that's fine on some level, but we still have to watch out for globalist corporations corrupting our kids, schools, communities.

        December 9, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  10. Jeff Treviño

    Well, I wrote a long, detailed rebuttal - and then it disappeared when I tried to post it. I guess CNN doesn't like detailed argument.

    December 9, 2012 at 1:53 am |
  11. chris

    In the story, the parent says her son was not taught the fundamentals in school. What responsibility does she take for that? When are parents going to realize that education is a partnership between schools and parents.

    December 8, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  12. rightospeak

    Well, I did write a comment stating that Jindal was right, but the censorship at CNN removed my comment-it did not match their propaganda from the Truth Ministry Parrots. So much for the "free press". They are free at censorship. Too much truth-and the comments gone.
    There was a total of 9 comments ,so I could have not missed it. reminds me of an article on Nuclear Power Plants. I wrote that ,unless subsidized by a government,they were NOT economic-so they removed my comments 5 times-it was a game which proved how the public is being manipulated not only into endless wars, but in many other ways.

    December 8, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  13. hypatia

    school vouchers were a typical thug way to refund public education. after all, the rich want complacent little drones, not thinking people. and no public monies should ever be use for a religious school in this country. you want your brats kowtowing to Kenya during class, pay for too . your own.

    December 8, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  14. MysticYat

    School Vouchers – sounds so good, doesn’t it. The problem with the Louisiana School Voucher programs is that tax payer dollars are being used to send children to private schools that are subject to little or no oversight. The majority of the vouchers are not going to private schools that are academically superior to the public schools these kids are leaving. The majority of the vouchers are being used to move kids into private, religious schools with questionable academics. If parents are concerned with their children's school they should become actively involved in their local school to make improvements like I did. If they want their children in a religious school, they should pay for it themselves – not expect me as a taxpayer to foot the bill.

    December 8, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

      "...private schools that are subject to little or no oversight," you say?
      If today's public-school system is the result of plenty of "oversight," then there is a strong possibility that the "oversight" is the problem.

      December 8, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  15. Tom

    Taxpayer money should not go to tax free religious schools, ever.

    December 8, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • julie

      Ironic that this is the identical argument made to protest private religious dollars being forcibly used to fund abortion and the morning after pill.

      December 10, 2012 at 6:58 am |
      • A.M

        AMEN! My thoughts exactly!

        December 10, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  16. hjhaney

    All school taxes should go into a central fund and all public schools should be funded equally. Schools in rich neighborhoods should not be better funded than the ones in poor neighborhoods.

    December 8, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

      Money alone does not create education.
      I have known many brilliant and dedicated teachers in outstanding New York City private schools from which graduates were admitted to the very best universities, but these teachers received salaries far smaller than those of teachers in New York's public high schools.

      December 8, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • Moncada

      I disagree with your comment. I am no rich person, I attended public school, but I do not think it is fair to not allow schools in wealthy neighborhoods to get more money. Would it be fair if I cannot drive a nice car because someone else can't afford it?

      December 10, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  17. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    I support a voucher system that would enable an AMBITIOUS student to attain the best education possible.
    When I attended public high school in Mississippi during the 1950s, I borrowed the materials from a college extension program that my parents could not afford. By studying the courses on my own, I passed examinations for a number of entry-level college courses and skipped to advanced courses in my first year of college.
    The best students should not suffer because their parents cannot afford private schools: vouchers for the ambitious would benefit all of society.
    No good student should be brought down to the level of mediocre pupils.

    December 8, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • fog

      I hate to agree with you on this but I do. I have two daughters. One will do just enough to get by and the other is an accelerated student. My state is fortunate enough to not have school funding issues and has started "Gifted and talented classes" in each grade through middle school. This consists of a certain percentage of high scoring children. My youngest daughter is in this designation and is being challenged to curriculam that is higher than her age level. Would it be fair for her to continually be stuck with kids like my oldest, I lover her dearly, who need external motivation from me to progress? On the flip side my oldest was put in a class that the teacher catered to the top students in the class and all the average students were left behind. I think tracking can be a positive thing.

      December 9, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  18. Judith

    So this scheme was intended to help 4,900 children, so presumably from seeing that it worries 4,900 parents, this scheme is aimed at one parent familes. I do not think so, I am sure the scheme is aimed at helping parents who have the money to choose where to send their children to school already.

    December 8, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  19. joleblanc

    So Mr. Enlow would return Louisiana schools to a system similar to what existed prior to school integration: a two-tiered school system of poor schools and better schools. A quality education should be available to ALL children. As a tax-paying Louisiana resident, I do not wish to see public money funding private schools. I really feel that had this entire voucher scheme been put to a vote, residents would not have passed it. Enlow works with some foundation in Indiana; he doesn't live here and doesn't care that the average resident here will tell you that Jindal's voucher scheme stinks worse than a pole cat.

    December 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • jean

      Agreed. Going back further, the only choices for an education in this country were none, a charity school, or a private one. Jindal aims to transform the public school system into a charity function. Few will choose the charity schools and the elimination of the public school system will be complete.

      December 9, 2012 at 4:40 pm |