By 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.