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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.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 08:55