Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal described teachers union efforts at halting the implementation of a school voucher program in his state as ‘shameful’ when he spoke at the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy, after the center ranked New Orleans Recovery School District number one in the country for school choice. Jindal said that the unions’ efforts amounted to attempts to keep students chained to some of the worst public schools in the district without giving them an option to escape to something better.
The Brookings Institution Brown Center gave the New Orleans district an “A” grade for both competition and choice, saying that of the 107 large districts surveyed, they were the only one to receive the highest grade on both measures. The report showed that over 80% of the schools in the district are offered as school choice alternatives, and for those who wish to attend private schools, a number of affordable options are also available which parents can pay for with the help of vouchers.
The report didn’t look at whether expanding the number of options available to parents led to improvement in student outcomes.
Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan struck this very note when he expressed criticism for the The Brown Center’s rankings, saying that parents are still barred from enrolling their kids in some of the best charters in the city and that the academic performance of alternative schools was wildly uneven. He especially pressed on the fact that although the voucher program was now transferring taxpayer dollars to private schools, it didn’t provide for a way to assess their performance.
The LFT was one of the groups that brought a lawsuit against Louisiana’s voucher program and shared in the victory when a judge recently declared it unconstitutional.
Jindal, who predicted that the voucher program ultimately will be upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court, said the No. 1 rating for the Recovery School District shows how far New Orleans area schools have climbed after decades of poor performance.
During his speech Jindal also tipped his hand about his future policy goals when he mentioned the necessity of laws to limit teacher tenure and to introduce merit pay. He said that the current system doesn’t reward teachers for performing well, but merely for surviving on the job long enough. Introduction of pay for performance would encourage instructors to improve rather than just bide their time until the next pay raise, he said.
It is unclear, however, how much the public supports the elimination of teacher protections like tenure. In November, after a hard-fought campaign, Idaho voters rejected the so-called “Luna laws,” named after Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, one of which called for placing restrictions on collective bargaining and limiting tenure.