Earlier this month, after a bipartisan majority passed two new education bills in the Louisiana state house, teachers took the day off from work to protest in concert with activists, including the rather obscure Occupy Baton Rouge. In Cajun tradition, they held a raucous “funeral for education reform.” But on the contrary, Louisiana’s school reforms represent a new national birth of freedom for education. This is a huge step forward for conservative policy, especially with the establishment of unprecedented access to school choice.
As Jim Geraghty wrote in National Review last fall, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has enjoyed a spectacular run of success at governing his state, overhauling Louisiana, once derided as America’s “banana republic,” by cutting down corruption, improving business-friendliness, and reforming the health-care system. In fact, Jindal’s efforts were so successful that the Democratic party essentially didn’t bother putting forth a challenger in 2010; Louisiana had gotten so bad that dramatically reducing spending and cracking down on ethics violations didn’t anger the body politic at all. But then, of course, there were still public schools: With sacrosanct spending levels, lifetime tenure, and no accountability measures, they are the Louisiana-like rump in every state, holding back student achievement.
Thus, the Oxford-educated governor has now turned his attention to education reform. Unlike his other common-sense reforms, these have encountered vehement opposition — not from the populace at large, but from teachers’ unions.
Jindal’s reforms are smart, comprehensive, and innovative, representing the best of conservative thought on education. Rick Hess, director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, has high praise for the reforms, calling them “both politically savvy and good public policy,” and important both “as an individual event, and part of a trend.” That is, Jindal’s reforms represent a victory for conservative education-reform policies, and represent the growing tide of support for such ideas. The measures are broken down into two bills, and have two major components: significantly increasing school choice, and increasing accountability.
As Hess puts it, Louisiana’s new policies “establish a new standard for school choice, breaking ground for other states across the country.” Jindal has pushed for a huge expansion of voucher programs, which pay tuition for students at parochial or private schools. The state program itself is based on a successful system in Orleans Parish. Four hundred thousand students, almost half of Louisiana’s public-school population, would be eligible for a voucher to pay tuition at a private school (that’s the number of students who are eligible because they attend schools that receive C, D, or F grades from the state).