The following is an amicus curiae brief which we filed with the LA Supreme Court to inform its decision in the lawsuit against the state with regard to the funding of the voucher program. The high court ruled in favor of the Constitution and our amicus. You may access the ruling here.
Our state is constitutionally mandated to provide a public educational system funded per the MFP and other sources. Such a mandate was issued by the authority of the citizens of Louisiana when they ratified the Constitution of 1974.
Contrary to the will of the people, the state now seeks to utilize this same funding to enrich private corporations at the expense of its own public schools. At play, in the state of Louisiana, is over 5 billion dollars annually of which roughly 3.4 billion is MFP funding. The state’s contention that this new system of funding is designed and necessary in order to give parents “choice” in what education their children will receive bears closer scrutiny.
While this system purports to provide “choice” to parents, it is the state’s own requirement that any school receiving funding—traditional public, private or charter-- must administer the same tests. For students to succeed on the test, the schools must teach the same curriculum based upon the same standards. Where is the “choice”?
An additional consideration of Act 2 is that it allows Charter Schools to maintain admission standards. Those chartered after July, 2012 may choose their students based upon whether students are appropriate given the expressed mission of each school. Those schools that were established prior to July, 2012 are allowed to include academic achievement in those admission standards. Private schools accepting vouchers also have admission standards that the students must meet; and most, if not all, include academic achievement as an integral part of those standards. These facts serve to highlight “School Choice” for the misnomer that it is: the very children that proponents of Education Reform claim to be more effectively educating are the very children to whom this particular version of reform offers nothing.
Notably, other states have implemented voucher programs; and, studies documenting the results have generally found no significant differences between the public and private school student achievement. With results falling far short of the promises made, The People, LLC is left to question the motives behind the passage of Act 2.
One actual effect of such a system is to further blur the line between “public and private” until private education is eradicated in Louisiana. This effect is gradually being realized as accountability measures are applied to the regulation of private schools in the school choice system; and, as children other than those from households meeting lower income requirements and/or as children from other than failing schools are being allowed to utilize these options. As these parameters of acceptance into the system continue to be widened, the line between public and private schools and monies will continue to be blurred until no real differentiation will exist. In this way, “school choice” serves as a vehicle to eliminate private education in Louisiana while, at the same time, turning over our public institution to corporate interests.
With our Louisiana Constitution stating so clearly that public funds are to be used to provide a system of public education, in both its expressed intent and ratification, the state is hard-pressed to even imply that this misnamed system of “School Choice” is anything that the authorities—the citizens---envisioned when voting for our Louisiana Constitution of 1974.
Our system of education developed as a result of citizens voting for their local school board members. Those members, answerable to the people, directed the schools in ways that were important to their particular communities. In this way, the standards of education were reflective of the communities in which they were found. Principals made the decisions in managing their schools and directing the curriculums. Teachers had control of their classrooms and used their creativity and skill to bring lessons to their students in ways that were meaningful and free of state interference. Textbooks were suggested at the school level and approved by the school boards with the standards of the communities in mind.
True choice in schools existed, because parents often chose where they would reside based upon the school offerings in the various locales. Our state and nation flourished under this system of possibilities—ingenuity, individualism, richness of culture and young adults ready to contribute to their communities was the result. Because the voters had direct influence with their school boards, children were well-grounded in the basics of education— reading, writing and arithmetic-- that parents knew would serve them well for entirety of their futures.
Comparing our educational system with the system for which the state is arguing today, provides a stark contrast. Unlike the system of possibilities created by the people, the education reform our state has chosen to follow seeks to produce identical outcomes for its human capital. It is characterized by: centralization of power and programming at the Executive level; a corresponding stripping of authority from local school boards and principals; the vilification and elimination of teachers who have been consistently blamed for the ill-effects of top-down directives which have undermined their authority and effectiveness; and, the apparent disregard for the authority of the people in directing our governmental systems. The system that the state has offered is simply a parody of what choice and education was intended to be in Louisiana.
The fact that this voucher system for which the state seeks to divert MFP and other funding enjoys a mere 2% rate of participation may be strongly indicative of the will of the people and their recognition that Act 2, along with the entirety of the Education Reform Package, simply serves to create a market where one does not exist.