If you want to see where Georgia conservatives want to take education in this state, look five hundred miles west to Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal is implementing a voucher program intended to move hundreds of thousands of students out of public schools and into privately run schools at taxpayer expense.
Louisiana officials have made it clear that they do not intend to impose teacher standards on those schools. Students attending voucher schools will be immune to the high-stakes testing that is required in the state’s public schools. In addition, the state will not sit in judgment of what the schools teach or how they teach it.
John White, Louisiana’s school superintendent, has told the press that it should be up to parents, not the state, to gauge whether private schools are delivering a quality education. “To me, it’s a moral outrage that the government would say, ‘We know what’s best for your child,’” White said. “Who are we to tell parents we know better?”
That “who are we to judge?” question is critically important. When fully implemented, the Louisiana program has the potential to shift well over a billion dollars a year in taxpayer money out of the public system into the hands of private for-profit and non-profit schools. Surely that gives state officials not just the right but the obligation to ensure that the money is well-spent and delivers quality education. But that’s counter to the philosophy driving the school voucher movement.
The program was signed into law by Jindal in April and takes effect immediately. The result has been an educational gold rush. For example, Reuters reports that New Living Word, the school offering the most open slots to voucher students, “has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in barebones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition.”
That’s not at all unusual. Almost all of the 125 private schools that have applied to accept voucher students in the 2012-13 school year are religious-based. Many teach creationism as science, some using curriculum provided through Accelerated Christian Education, an education ministry. Under its system, ACE boasts, “the school is not considered an arm of the church. It is the church in action.”
ACE’s first-grade curriculum, for example, teaches as science that God created the Earth in six days, that on Day One he divided the light from the darkness and on Day Six made man and other living creatures.
As another example of how intertwined church and state become, the Islamic School of Greater New Orleans initially indicated that it too would participate in the voucher program, but later withdrew after a political outcry. As state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, explained, vouchers are supposed to finance “teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion,” but “we need to ensure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools…. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”
This is the type of program that voucher proponents in Georgia hope to emulate. Last week, for example, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers acknowledged that if he had his way, such programs would have been implemented “yesterday,” specifically citing Louisiana as a model. But until full-blown implementation is possible, Rogers and others pursue half steps, such as the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November giving the state the power to create charter schools over the protest of local districts.
It is also consistent with proposals from GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who advocates turning federal aid for schools into individual grants “so that eligible students can choose which school to attend and bring funding with them.” Interestingly, the Romney plan avoids the term “vouchers”, although that is clearly how such grants would function.
That’s in keeping with the stealthy, incremental process by which this goal is being pursued.
– Jay Bookman