Schools Without Accountability Aren’t “Public”

In the eternal conservative battle to insist Americans must choose between traditional public schools exactly as they are today, and use of tax dollars to indiscriminately subsidize private schools (mostly religious schools, and many teaching a militantly ideological secular sectarian agenda), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has become a field marshall. And even though his own voucher program has been struck down by state courts in Louisiana, he appeared this week at the Brookings Institution to demand the same old false choices in the name of “choice”:

Speaking at Brookings, Jindal defended the legality of the vouchers, saying that the money was still being used to publicly educate students, just not through public schools.

“To me it’s pretty obvious that we don’t fund bricks and mortar, we’re funding students’ education,” he said.

Yes, but without accountability to the public. Genuine charter public schools are based on explicit contract agreements between public officials and charter operators that not only demand free and equal access, but performance benchmarks more specific than those of traditional public schools. That’s not how private schools receiving public funds, whether they call themselves “charters” or not, function in Louisiana, where the official ideology is that parents have the sole power to determine whether this or that school is doing a sufficient job. This approach not only disenfranchises other parents, and other taxpayers without school-age children, from any say over the use of public educational dollars (a strong prescription in the long run for undermining public support of education, it should be obvious), but encourages parents to allow non-educational factors to influence their “choice,” with the most obvious being religion. So you wind up heading in the direction where Louisiana’s program was going until the courts stepped in: a vast system for replacing public schools with a network of private schools dominated by conservative evangelical madrassas where students are instructed to hold secular society in fear and contempt.

It works very well as a way to reward conservative political constituencies, which if you are Bobby Jindal, and thinking about higher office, may be the whole point.

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.