Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has enacted a breathtaking set of education reforms — including the broadest school choice program in the nation — and those reforms are now being challenged by the state teachers union.
The Texas Legislature, faced with dismal test scores and an ever-increasing bill for public education, should pay close attention.
“The Louisiana Federation of Teachers has filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education package enacted by the Legislature and using public school funds to pay for private and parochial school vouchers,” the Shreveport Times reported last week. “The lawsuits are filed by the federation, its member organizations in East Baton Rouge and Jefferson parishes and four teachers. Named as defendants are the State of Louisiana and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.”
In a sign of how intellectually bankrupt at least one of the challenges is, it’s not based on the content of the education reforms — it’s based on how they were bundled together.
“The challenges to Acts 1 and 2 primarily are based on the constitutional provision that every piece of legislation filed must be ‘confined to one object,’ basically dealing with only one subject,” the Times explains. “Acts 1 and 2 bundle several education changes into single bills.”
The other challenge goes to the heart of the debate.
It claims the law “unconstitutionally diverts funds from public schools to private and religious institutions, citing (a section of the constitution) which states that the formula ‘shall be used to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools as well as to equitably allocate the funds to parish and city school systems.’”
There it is; the education reform law allows students (poor ones at first, then more and more) to leave failing public schools, and to take their tax money with them. They’ll be able to use it to pay for tuition at private schools — including religious schools, if that’s what their parents wish.
The law also reforms teacher tenure and expands charter schools.
And the education establishment sees this as the threat that it is. One teacher, Elizabeth Walters, wrote recently that lawmakers “had good reason” to attempt reform — the state is ranked 49th in the nation in children’s quality of life, including education.
But the reforms go too far, she contended.
“Evidently, as a public-school teacher, I’m part of the problem,” she wrote. “Maybe I should just go teach at a charter or a private school. Then I’d instantly be part of the solution, right? I’d automatically be smarter, more dynamic, more engaging. My students would automatically learn more.”
Education Week’s Diane Ravitch also criticized the reforms.
“All in all, the Jindal legislation is the most far-reaching attempt in the nation to de-fund, dismantle, and obliterate public education,” she wrote. “Is there any evidence that any of these changes will improve education? No, none whatsoever. Does the Jindal law follow the lead of any of the high-performing nations? No. But that’s what ‘reform’ means today.”
To receive that kind of resistance, Jindal must be on to something.
Ms. Ravitch is perfectly correct; results matter and evidence should be collected on how Louisiana’s grand experiment is faring.
But the state and its young governor are taking bold steps along a path that most are too timid to even tread.
Texas legislators should pay close attention. If they’re going to ask taxpayers for more money for public education (which is all but certain), they’re going to find that the public wants better results in return.