Louisiana School Choice Program Heads to Trial

John Kramer
John Kramer · November 27, 2012

Arlington, Va.—November 28-30, 2012, will be critical days for anyone who cares about genuine school reform in Louisiana. During those three days, parents and children will gather at the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge to defend the state’s transformative Act 2 law, which finally gives options for students long-ignored by the educational status quo.

Thanks to Louisiana’s newly expanded school choice program, thousands of parents can now choose to send their children to the school that is best for them. Faced with an exodus of children from underperforming and failing public schools, teachers’ unions and school boards have sued to stop parents from making that choice. Act 2—the law creating scholarships that can be used at private schools—is, however, entirely consistent with the Louisiana Constitution. Moreover, it is imperative that school choice flourish in Louisiana or else another generation of Louisiana schoolchildren will be condemned to educational purgatory.

Act 2 provides scholarships to students in a family “with a total income that does not exceed 250 percent of the current federal poverty guidelines” attending public schools rated C, D or F by the Louisiana Department of Education. Nearly 5,000 students are participating in the program and the number will grow as the program becomes more established.

“This program is a lifesaver for my child,” said Valerie Evans, a school choice mom from New Orleans. “The Act 2 scholarship ensures that my child will be in a safe environment first and foremost. That means getting my son, Gabriel, out of a public school system that is filled with fear, confusion and violence, and getting him into a Catholic school where he will not only be safe, but will get the education he needs and deserves. Without a quality education from grade school, he won’t have the foundation he needs to get into college, graduate and be a success.”

Bill Maurer, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represents the families using the program, said, “The state needs bold steps to address its broken public school system. Thirty-six percent of Louisiana’s public schools received a D or F ranking in standards set by the state. A significant number of public schools received an F rating, and from 2011 to 2012, 274 schools saw their performance scores drop according to the Louisiana Department of Education. This has to improve and the only way it will is by giving parents the power to vote with their feet and get their children into better performing schools.”

Kenneth Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), which is a party in defense of the program, said, “There is no greater injustice than to tell children that they don’t deserve a chance at the best possible education because their family can’t afford it. No one should be treated any less or be prevented from gaining access to high quality educational options based on their income or zip code. School vouchers offer access, opportunity, choice and a chance for success that many families may not otherwise have.”

Through Act 2, kids get a chance at a good education while public schools have an incentive to improve their performance.

Kevin P. Chavous, a senior advisor to the Alliance for School Choice, which promotes school choice programs across the nation, said, “It is sickening to see teachers’ unions trying to take away quality educational options from the very children they pledge to help. We stand with Louisiana’s families who are benefiting from the voucher program, and we believe strongly that once the legal process has run its course, its constitutionality will be upheld.”

The opponents of Act 2 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 99, the Legislature’s resolution approving the state’s funding mechanism for the program, have revealed their desperation to block any education reform in other ways. One union has threatened frivolous litigation against any private school that accepts scholarship students. The opponents of Act 2 have also cherry-picked the curriculum of some private schools to argue that the program funds schools that emphasize theological education.

IJ Senior Attorney Dick Komer said, “This is simply another way of saying that parents cannot be trusted to make responsible decisions regarding who educates their children. For kids stuck in dysfunctional public schools, expanded educational options represent a lifeline to a better education and the condescension of those who have so manifestly failed to provide them with a decent education must seem ironic indeed.”

“Act 2 is constitutional and greatly needed. It represents a major threat to the public schools’ sclerotic and complacent establishment, which is why it is the focus of such bitter opposition,” explained Institute for Justice President Chip Mellor. “If we want to give kids a chance at a better education, the opposition must not succeed. Quite simply, the time has come to put the interests of parents and children above those of unions and school boards.”