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Vouchers vetoed

Education | Louisiana court slaps down state's school choice plan, sending students back to failing schools

Issue: "Another dark day in America," Jan. 12, 2013

John Lacey’s children are two of the 4,944 unsure if they can remain in their private schools now that a judge has ruled Louisiana tax collections cannot pay their tuition. Lacey, a single dad, is outraged: “You’re going to tell me I have to leave my child in a failing school system?” 

In April 2012, Louisiana legislators expanded a New Orleans voucher program statewide. Students zoned into public schools the state rates C, D, or F could take their public education funds to state-reviewed private schools. This amounted to 380,000 children because Louisiana schools rank in the bottom five nationally on nearly every measure, such as dropout rates and reading achievement.

While legal battles often hinge on whether vouchers unconstitutionally fund religious institutions, the Louisiana case concerns how the state funds them. It currently runs the money through the same account that pays for public schools. District Judge Timothy Kelley said that is unconstitutional.  

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When his children attended public schools, Lacey said, teachers told him they had too many students to help his children through their academic struggles. He prefers Life Christian Academy for its small class sizes and moral education. Lacey can’t afford private school tuition, and thinks his tax dollars should go to a school he chooses.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has petitioned the Louisiana Supreme Court to keep the kids in their chosen schools while it hears his appeal of the Nov. 30 decision. Lacey says his kids are staying put for now: “I’m going to make sure they get a proper education. That’s what I’ve got out of the Christian school versus the public school system.”

Here's looking at you, kids

ID: A student shows her identification badge at a San Antonio school.
Associated Press/Photo by Bob Owen/San Antonio Express-News
ID: A student shows her identification badge at a San Antonio school.

Two San Antonio high schools now require their 4,000 students to wear ID badges containing radio frequency identification chips that transmit 24/7. A major reason: The badges show when students cut class. Attendance on the day of enrollment determines state funding for the year, and reducing absences on that day could increase school coffers by $2 million.

Student Andrea Hernandez refused, with privacy rights a major reason. She had applied to attend her school, a science and engineering magnet school that admits only those students who have good grades and attendance records, and write a convincing essay. The school threatened expulsion. She sued, and a district court judge ruled in November that the school could not expel her until her lawsuit is decided. —J.P.

Limited choice

Rick Snyder
Associated Press/Photo by Carlos Osorio
Rick Snyder

Michigan K-12 students could become free agents, able to attend any in-state public school that will enroll them, and even to take different classes at different schools. That’s what Gov. Rick Snyder wants, but the idea alarms State Board of Education President John Austin: “This is a voucher system,” he told the Detroit Free Press. Austin says it’s a mistake for educators to tell parents, “Here’s the money. Make your own choices.”

Snyder’s proposal is limited, but the limitation is one more result of the mistake late-19th-century Protestants made when they controlled public schools, wanted Catholics to attend them, and passed laws forbidding any tax dollars from going to religious schools (see WORLD, Aug. 24, 2002). Michigan’s constitution forbids taxes from funding “nonpublic” schools: It’s the most restrictive of the 38 states with similar amendments. Snyder’s plan is not a voucher plan since students would not be able to attend private schools using state money, but it would give families choice among public schools. Families who currently attempt that can be prosecuted. 

Snyder’s proposal would also give early high-school graduates up to $10,000 for college, expand online learning possibilities, and reduce money to schools that do not improve student test scores. —J.P.

Joy Pullmann
Joy Pullmann

Joy is managing editor of School Reform News. She lives with her husband and two small children in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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