The voucher program in Louisiana continues to amaze. It is a living demonstration of what happens when public officials abandon responsibility for the children and institutions in their care. Watch what happens when the state gives children a voucher for public funds and then says that whatever choice they make is okay. John White memorably said last year: “To me, it’s a moral outrage that the government would say, ‘We know what’s best for your child,’” White said. “Who are we to tell parents we know better?”
And that is why the Louisiana Department of Education sent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to the New Living Word Church school, making fools of taxpayers while abdicating any interest in the quality of education received by the children. An audit revealed that the school overcharged the state by nearly $400,000, so White has excluded the school from the voucher program and is suing to recover the money.
But the school was not excluded because of its poor education, only because of financial impropriety.
Robert Mann, a professor of communications at Louisiana State University, writes: “Would you pay $6,300 in tuition to send your child to a private school with uncertified teachers, insufficient computers and no proper classrooms, and at which the “teaching” occurred mostly by plopping students in front of televisions to watch lessons on DVDs? Of course you wouldn’t. But the Louisiana Department of Education would.”
“In a moment of Orwellian inspiration, Jindal and the Legislature dubbed their voucher plan the “Student Scholarships of Education Excellence Program.”
“Despite embarrassing questions last year from legislators and the media about the school’s abysmal instruction, its lack of classroom space and the absence of qualified teachers, state Education Superintendent John White awarded the voucher slots.
“Actually, calling this Ruston fly-by-night operation a “school” is like calling beef jerky prime rib. Yet, with full knowledge that the institution was little more than a shell of a school, White and Jindal handed it more than $600,000 of your money.
“The damage to the state’s budget could have been worse. White’s department initially awarded New Living Word more voucher slots than any other school in the state. Only after the Monroe News-Star exposed the sordid mess was White forced to trim the number from 315 to 165. Last school year, the “school” enrolled only 93 voucher students.”
Why in the world would White offer more vouchers to this school than any other in the state? Maybe because the well-established religious and private schools would not accept more than a handful of students. And White needed the numbers.
“White, of course, feigned outraged – but not about the fact that he’d wasted hundreds of thousands of tax dollars subsidizing shoddy instruction. “It shows a basic lack of competence,” he said about the school, not himself. “It can’t be tolerated.”
“What White can tolerate is inferior instruction of your children via DVD. In his statement, he offered no explanation for his recklessness and incompetence.
“And of the audits (basically internal investigations conducted by two Baton Rouge accounting firms), White trumpeted them as proof that his voucher program – save for New Living Word – is an unqualified success. The headline on a Department of Education press release proudly declared, “99 Percent of Schools Show No Violation.”
“There’s just one problem with that statement: It’s patently false.”
What did the audits reveal?
“In fact, the audits revealed that the afore-mentioned standard “could not be completed for forty-nine of the fifty-one private schools reviewed.” One audit is littered with the following statement, concerning the records of dozens of voucher schools: “We were unable to perform the procedures because the school did not have a separate checking account or other procedures to account for scholarship expenditures separate from other expenditures.”
“Most of the schools were also unable to verify that their “expenditures do not constitute gross irresponsibility and are not individually enriching.” These are not insignificant findings except, apparently, to White. The state will spend about $45 million in the current fiscal year on vouchers for about 8,000 students.”
Louisiana’s problem is a lack of accountability. The state has no accountability at the top. When will John White be held accountable for the unaccountable voucher program? When will he be held accountable for the disastrous “course choice” program, that seeks to funnel millions of dollars to for-profit vendors? The highest court in the state declared unconstitutional the funding of both the voucher and course choice programs. Jindal and White will not be allowed to take money out of the public school fund to pay for their privatization plans.
What Louisiana shows for all to see is that the privatization movement is not about improving education. It is not “for the kids.” It is about money, power, and ego.