This appears to be Louisiana's new model of education reform:
Louisiana is embarking on the nation's boldest experiment in privatizing public education, with the state preparing to shift tens of millions in tax dollars out of the public schools to pay private industry, businesses owners and church pastors to educate children.
Yes, it's vouchers on steroids in the Big Easy. First for low-income families, and eventually for everyone, including mini-vouchers for families over a certain income level. Use them for supplemental services like tutoring, or use them to move your kids to a private school.
Of course, the government-supplied vouchers won't pay 100% of private school tuition, but then, it's not like the government paid for 100% of kids' schooling before, right?
Oh, right. They did. Well, never mind.
The great thing about this system is that anyone who wants to get into the Ed Biz and take care of some of the state's huddled masses is welcome to set up shop. And I have no problem with that, philosophically. I think school choice can be a good thing, and can enforce a certain competitive accountability that schooling has lacked, over the years.
(Of course, if we recruited better, trained better, paid better, and supported better, we might not need to go to such lengths on teacher effectiveness and accountability, but that's another story.)
One of the state's more prestigious private schools is willing to take in as many as four voucher students per year as part of this program, so don't count on them to solve the problem. But they've already got a healthy population of families to serve, and nobody should expect them to have to change their mission just because the state doesn't want to be in the education business anymore.
But don't worry: there's a whole new breed of schools opening up to get in on this competitive new market and serve the children of the poor:
The school willing to accept the most voucher students -- 314 -- is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition.
Don't get me wrong; I have no problems with religious schooling. I sent my son to a Hebrew Day School for two years. The whole point of choice is that you get to choose. If you think a church-run school or a religiously-inflected school will educate your kids better, or instill values you find lacking in the larger world, go for it. And if those schools can find a way to do the job for the amount provided by the state, and are willing to take in the kids...great.
However. You've got to admit there's something a little creepy about the image of kids in a bare room watching instructional DVDs all day...all of which (apparently), mix religious instruction with core academics.
Here's another example:
At Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, pastor-turned-principal Marie Carrier hopes to secure extra space to enroll 135 voucher students, though she now has room for just a few dozen. Her first- through eighth-grade students sit in cubicles for much of the day and move at their own pace through Christian workbooks, such as a beginning science text that explains "what God made" on each of the six days of creation. They are not exposed to the theory of evolution.
"We try to stay away from all those things that might confuse our children," Carrier said.
You know, in the old soup kitchens, at least you got real soup after having Bible verses read at you. Here, you don't seem to get your religion before your book-learning, or even as a break from it; you have religion infused into every waking moment of your education.
Which, again, if that's what you want for your children, great--you ought to have the right to get it.
But what if these intensely religious and apparently cut-rate solutions are the only options available to kids whose parents can't supplement the vouchers? Is it right...is it fair....to put parents in an economic position where their only choices are to leave kids in increasingly falling-apart public schools or send them to places where academics are filtered through the lens of what religious authorities deem to be true and worthy--or where they watch TV (sacred or secular) all day?
But hey--I guess if they had wanted better options for their children, they shouldn't have allowed themselves to be poor.
Or live in Louisiana.