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Compromise hopefully will not moot LA education reform

Perhaps although necessary for bill success, a potential poison pill provision in the recently-passed incipient law that permits Louisiana’s scholarship voucher program to expand carries the future risk of abrogating the very intent behind the legislation.

HB 976, among other things, might dramatically expand the number of students who receive an amount of state money, one considerably less than the state spends per student in public schools that could pay for schooling at a non-public school. Children from families whose income is 250 percent of the poverty limit or below and who attend a D or F ranked public school are guaranteed placement in one of these schools – if there’s room for them.

Those schools entirely voluntarily will supply the space, which over the next few years may amount only to several thousand slots, perhaps two percent of the total now eligible, where their willingness to do so in large part comes from how heavy of a hand the state will cast in regulating regarding these students. Understand that the reason these private schools exist, most of them having some religious affiliation, is because they wished to teach certain subjects and in certain ways that public schools for various reasons would not or could not do. Too much regulation that makes them unable to operate in the manner they see fit will discourage them from accepting these students.

That consideration was a tactic used by opponents of the reform, in their attempts to poison the well by amendment attempts that required the same accountability standards be used for these schools as with public schools. This entirely missed the point of the purpose of those standards, created because government monopoly schools had been receiving funds regardless of their performances and receiving enrollments based upon geography. These were a way of trying to simulate market forces by signaling information to policy-makers, in that if schools did not do a good job sanctions eventually would remove the people and processes contributing to their failures, much like the market would punish firms that failed to attract customers because of their relatively poor performances with dissolution. Thus, incentives were created to compel better performance from these one-size-fits-all institutions.

Private schools, which already operate in the marketplace unsheltered by government and its coercive taxation and attendance powers, need no such structures to encourage quality. Families, who may freely enter and exit the market, vote with dollars the origins of which are irrelevant to this decision, to determine which ones get what students, where institutions that are shown not be as good values relative to tuition and demonstrated student achievement will attract fewer students, creating incentives for all to improve. Accountability mechanisms that provide information about monopoly performance simply are unneeded in this environment.

Nevertheless, language got inserted into the bill giving the Department of Education – thereby ultimately the state Superintendent of Education appointed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education – discretion in picking accountability standards. Really all that is needed is for complete information to be made available to families to make comparative choices, and as the state already lays down standards for basic subjects such as English and mathematics for teaching in non-public schools, following the current regulation for those few students in the New Orleans area already in the program that they all take the LEAP tests, and any standardized tests the state requires of students in public schools, is then to publicize the results.

Something along this order seems likely given the current composition of BESE and it appointed Superintendent John White. But because the law gives the authority to Education rather than writing it into the law, or not requiring any, this creates the specter of a future BESE with a majority inimical to beneficial reform that could engineer an altering of the standards to discourage spots available for these students. Again, supporters may have thought allowing the amendment that did this vital to ensuring the entire bill’s passage, or did not see the danger. Regardless, the risk now looms permanently.

Probably, White understands the limited purpose of such standards and will act accordingly. Hopefully, in the future there will not come a time where special interests that favor more other priorities than the coming law’s intent of improving education and delivering it more efficiently end up prevailing politically and through this power moot its effectiveness in carrying out this intent.


Anonymous said...

You know, you've got a point there, Doc. Substandard public schools need to be held to standards to make sure they hire qualified instructors. If we had any doubts we can tell at the college level. Poor schools on the verge of being dissolved, seem to end up hiring poor instructors who aren't capable of objective thought. Perhaps when a schools with higher standards (even a "rural" school) take over they can weed out the biased hacks and improve the quality of education that has been lacking. Then those poor educators can find jobs where they get paid for being a political flack, instead of posing as an educator.

Anonymous said...

Your guys are doing it again.

The substantive retirement bills are now up in the Senate Retirement Committee.

Legislation by AMBUSH AGAIN!!!!!

The first thing they did was to offer a substitute bill, that is a whole new bill that the public has not seen. Then, they offered amendments (that no one has seen) to the new substitute bill.

Please tell us, Professor, how you justify this.

Don't you think the public is entitled to have some prior notice of these matters and to be able to speak for or against them? At a minimum?

If so, how do you react to this?

If not, how do you justify it? Why do you condone it?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The Gofer has tenure but does not want others to have it.

Why are we not surprised!

Mr. Harris Plutocrat said...

If you were to read Jeff's blog exclusively, you'd have no idea about the major controversies about these bills. This man is a total ideologue. I'm embarrassed for the whole state when I read his posts.