Louisiana’s No-Count Accountability Standards For Vouchers

It’s been a while since we checked in on the Gret Stet of Loosiana’s new voucher program for private schools, which has succeeded in making Gov. Bobby Jindal the Christian Right’s very favorite prospect to become Mitt Romney’s running-mate.

Under considerable pressure to provide some sort of accountability standards for private schools receiving vouchers (as vaguely required in the enabling legislation), Jindal’s state education chief John White and his staff scrambled to come up with a plan. They did so, and got a rubber-stamp approval from the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and probably the most that can be said for it is that it’s slightly better than nothing. Here’s a report from Reuters’ Stephanie Simon:

State money will continue to flow to scores of private and religious schools participating in Louisiana’s new voucher program even if their students fail basic reading and math tests, according to new guidelines released by the state on Monday.

The voucher program, the most sweeping in the nation, is the linchpin of Louisiana’s bold push to reshape public education. The state plans to shift tens of millions of dollars from public schools to pay not only private schools but also private businesses and private tutors to educate children across the state….

Under the new rules, schools will not be penalized for poor scores on state standardized tests if they have fewer than 40 voucher students enrolled in the upper elementary or secondary grades. Those schools can continue to receive state funds even if their voucher students fail to demonstrate basic competency in math, reading, science and social studies.

White estimated that 75 percent of the 120 private schools in the voucher program this year will fall into this protected category….

Lance Hill, executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research in New Orleans, said the new guidelines failed to hold private schools to the same academic standards as public schools.

“Almost all the voucher schools are religious schools,” Hill said, “and many use an evangelical curriculum that teaches that humans walked the earth 6,000 years ago with dinosaurs. Do I, as a taxpayer, want my taxes to support that as a proper education in science?”

Good question, Lance. But the smokescreen of these “accountability standards” obscures the fundamental philosophy of the Louisiana program, which is to make parental choice and unregulated markets for public dollars the only real criteria of success. As a post at Education Talk New Orleans notes:

The first stated purpose in the plan is “a common standard for student performance across the system of traditional public, charter public, and non public schools.” However, the plan as adopted completely ignores that purpose….. Public schools are given a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F, but voucher schools will NOT receive a letter grade. The State Superintendent can’t waive any part of the accountability system for public school, but he can waive any provision in the accountability plan for voucher schools. Another purpose of the adopted plan is to uphold the public trust when public funds are involved. Clearly the accountability plan presented makes a mockery of the public trust.

I will once again note that Mitt Romney’s rarely discussed proposal to convert all federal K-12 education funds into vouchers lets them be used at any school that state law authorizes as recipients of public dollars. Between Mitt and Bobby, the struggling public education system in Louisiana would be dealt a one-two punch from which it would probably never recover.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.