As always, this column offers assistance to those befuddled about important political issues of the day. Some need more help than others, and in that category appears to be Melissa Flournoy, head of the leftist Louisiana Coalition for Progress who after , she reports, facing (very mild, and not even as incisive as this) criticism over her remarks about expansion of educational choices delivered in a public forum, took to a keyboard to complain.
In remarks to Baton Rouge media representatives, Flournoy, said the plan by Gov. Bobby Jindal to make scholarship vouchers available to a wide range of students in fair-to-failing schools would not work. She said there was not enough system capacity, that it would be too expensive, it would divert money from public schools, and it would lack accountability. These carelessly-considered views, built on a foundation of red herrings and straw men, drew several critiques.
In the newspaper column serving as her quasi-response, she tries a slightly different angle. She repeats the claim in new packaging that few would be helped, therefore more attention (and thus money) should be given to public schools where the vast majority presumably would be assisted. She also repeats the assertion that the program would remove money from public schools, hampering that assistance.
In fact, perhaps the best argument that she could have made against the voucher idea she did by doing rather than by telling. Flournoy, who comes from a wealthy family that provided her with a private school education, showed perhaps that money was wasted as in the column she continued to make the same errors in fact and logic pointed out in this space. None of her assertions in either forum are true.
To reiterate, this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Even if, as one of her critics noted, only a fraction of the total eligible are likely get services this way, that’s better than none. By Melissa’s logic, you should refuse to give money to late night pleas on television to send money to feed hungry children because you can only a help a few instead of all.
Not that money allocation will be an issue. Despite her unwillingness to acknowledge the fact, in reality the average tuition cost to the state of the New Orleans program already operating, which is just through primary and elementary schooling, is less than half the money state pays on average per child. Even at the secondary level, costs would be equivalent. Thus, the program neither would be too expensive nor take money, absent a separate policy decision to reallocate funds, from public schools. In fact, it would leave money per capita for public school students.
The supporters of government monopoly of schooling are using the diversionary argument of accountability standards, where they demand the accepting schools submit to all state regulations and reporting regarding them, as a method to defeat the program as institution of this criterion would discourage school participation. Notice the ploy in shifting the emphasis away from the program’s real intent, helping students, onto judging the schools, avoiding the fact the funding is going to the students, not to operating government schools The present standard in the Orleans pilot program, reporting of outcomes on standardized tests, is all the accountability measure needed, allowing families to judge past performance of participating institutions. The marketplace will channel money to its best, most efficient and effective uses, whether that be in private or public education.
While Melissa has now twice seen these above arguments in print, perhaps one other thing needs to be made clear for her. Public schools also are assisted by this program by the increase of competition. Given the imperative of competing against a larger field of alternatives, this will force public schools to be less lazy and better stewards of resources, lacking incentives presently to encourage these traits especially among schools serving lower socioeconomic status communities. This combination only can help improve the quality of education they deliver.
I’ve known Melissa for nearly 20 years, and if she is honest with herself, she will understand the superiority of these arguments and, if we really have the goal of benefiting not just private, not just public, but the concept of education of children in general, she and her organization will embrace them. If that doesn’t happen, we safely can assume ideology or other special interests have won them over.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:25