A NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE EDITORIAL

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arvin Gaye’s classic is on shuffle and repeat in our office. When we sit back and observe the latest consternation over the state of Louisiana’s voucher program, with report after report “revealing” problems and failures of the Louisiana Scholarship Program (the official name for school vouchers in the state), we have to wonder What’s Going On? 

Why is this so-called news met with such astonishment and alarm?

The New Orleans Tribune denounced the voucher program back in 2007 when state leaders first seriously considered it. We came out against vouchers in 2008 after the program was enacted and launched. Let’s double check . . . maybe we forgot to point out the flaws in the voucher program back in 2012 when the state legislature expanded the program. Nope, we did that too.

Our dissent regarding this program has been vocal and consistent. 

Back in 2013, we crunched the numbers, noting that nearly 10,000 students applied for vouchers in the 2012-2013 school year. Almost 6,000 were awarded; and about 5,000 were accepted and used by parents to send their children to private school. But statewide, there were about 691,000 public school students. In other words, vouchers went to less than one percent of all public school students. As we noted then, even if the program worked, it wasn’t helping enough students. Even with the expansion, the number of students receiving vouchers has only grown to roughly 7,000. 

And if the presumption was that the small group of students who received vouchers for private school educations were better off than the other 99 percent of public school students, we dispelled that myth as well—literally six years ago before any one was willing to admit that this school choice talk was a bunch of crap. 

Back then, while everyone else was on the voucher bandwagon we reported that public school students that received a voucher to go to private schools weren’t performing as well as the students left in the public schools. We have repeatedly pointed out that private schools are not better at educating children just because they are private. And more to the point, it appeared that many of the schools taking part in the state’s scholarship program were doing a dreadful job. We knew that this voucher thing wasn’t hitting for anything years ago. In 2013, we reported that:

• At least 45 percent of the nearly 5,000 students in the program during 2012-2013 attended schools that ranked D or F based on the state’s accountability assessment.

• Data released in May 2013 on LEAP scores for third- through eighth-graders show only 40 percent of voucher students scored at or above grade level. That meant that 60 percent–more than half—of them scored below grade level.

• And voucher students scored an average of 30 points lower than their public school counterparts on 2012-2013 high-stakes accountability tests.

In other words, just five years into the state voucher program the problems and failures were clear. So we have to ask, what’s really going on? Why has it taken more than a decade and thousands of children later for the mainstream media to finally report the reality of this issue? 

Still, if this were a perfect world we would be excited that honest assessments are finally being shared by media outlets larger than our own. We love the truth, no matter whose telling it. Unfortunately, any joy or hope that might come with the notion that these new reports will lead to the end of vouchers is quickly deflated. 

First, despite all of the evidence against vouchers, there are still education “reformers” dead set on spewing lies and muddying the narrative surrounding the program. Despite everything pointing to vouchers not working and the program itself being mismanaged and poorly overseen, it remains more important to these so-called reformers to attack public education than to publicly acknowledge the truth.

Secondly, it dawns on us that the entity that would be responsible for getting rid of vouchers in the state of Louisiana is the one that voted for their original approval in 2008 and their expansion in 2012—the state Legislature. Let’s just say that based on the current legislative session, we aren’t expecting too much from this group.

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